Independent retailers from Wells in Somerset have joined forces to create a new digital marketplace that aims to replicate the city’s high street.

MyHigh.St features products from more than 30 of Wells’ retailers on one site, allowing customers to buy from several shops using a single checkout.

The aim is to help support high street retailers by helping them to start selling online and by increasing footfall in their shops.

One of the delivery options is click and collect and the site’s loyalty scheme gives higher rewards to those who visit the high street than those who shop purely online.

MyHigh.St takes 14% of all online sales and plans to have 15 other towns online by the end of the year. It sounds like a great idea, but is the site any good?

Browsing

Though MyHigh.St is a noble idea, in practice the website is quite difficult to use. Firstly, the product categories are quite broad and some are too ambiguous, such as ‘Get creative’ and ‘Looking good, feeling great’.

But more importantly it is tricky to navigate between different shops to try and find what you’re looking for.

The idea of the site is to replicate the browsing experience you get on the high street, but personally I don’t think that’s what people are looking for online.

For example, if you click on the ‘Fashion boutique’ category you are shown products from 16 different shops laid out in two columns.

Items seem to be placed completely at random, so you get a pair of shoes, a dress, earrings and a handbag all presented next to each other.

Each of the shops is identified in the left-hand column, but you don’t have any real idea what they sell.

The only way to find out is by clicking on one of them, but the process of navigating between shops isn’t very user-friendly as too many things load and move on-screen.

You can filter by product categories, however on one occasion when I filtered on ‘Men’s clothing’ it returned options for women’s blouses, shoes and jewellery. 

But the main usability issue is the way the products are displayed. As mentioned, they are presented in two columns which means that browsing through even a small number of items involves a huge amount of scrolling.

Adding items to the basket

When you click on an item the product details are displayed on the right of the screen, but the product descriptions are often only one or two lines long and don’t give enough detail, and the dropdown menu for different sizes is labelled ‘Options’ which isn’t specific enough.

Products often only have one image which isn’t enough when trying to persuade online shoppers to make a purchase. Product pages need to give customers as much detail as possible, including multiple photos from different angles.

Finally, while the product pages do include a large ‘Add to basket’ call-to-action when you click on it the site doesn’t encourage the shopper to head to the checkout.

In fact the only indication you have that the item has actually been added to your shopping basket is the small number in the top right of the screen.

Checkout

Getting the checkout right is crucially important as this is where you can lose a huge number of potential customers, and MyHigh.St has done a good job of making the payment process quick and easy to use.

There is a progress bar to let you know how far through the process you are and it displays product images during the checkout to keep customers informed about their purchase.

Form filling is also kept to a minimum and you aren’t forced to register an account, which is a frequent cause of basket abandonment.

MyHigh.St also accepts PayPal which is a good way of capturing transactions from shoppers that aren’t comfortable entering their card details.

But while the checkout is easy to use, there is a fairly major issue with shipping costs

Though there is one checkout for all the shops, if you buy products from more than one retailer you have to pay separate shipping costs for each one.

For example, I added products from three shops in my basket and when I got to the checkout discovered that one of them doesn’t offer delivery, the only option is to pick it up from the store.

The other two did offer delivery but the only shipping option is Royal Mail Parcel Delivery costing £5.50, which is applied separately for each retailer for a total cost of £11.

This is a major flaw with MyHigh.St as it means that some products are off-limits to shoppers who can’t get to Wells High Street and the high shipping costs are likely to put a lot of customers off.

Conclusion

High streets around the UK are struggling at the moment so it’s a great idea to help small retailers sell their products online. However I’m not convinced that trying to replicate the high street on a website is going to work.

People already browse different retailers online simply by navigating to their websites, so there wasn’t really any need to try and overhaul the online shopping experience.

A better idea may have been to create an online marketplace similar to Amazon or eBay which are far easier to navigate than MyHigh.St.

The way products are currently laid out makes it quite tricky to find what you are looking for and there is no real indication as to what products you will find in each store. People don’t mind wandering around different shops when they are visiting an actual high street but the experience is different online.

A large proportion of online traffic comes from Google searches so customers know what they are looking for and many enter e-commerce sites at the product page. Due to the way My High Street’s product pages are laid out I don’t think it will get a huge amount of search traffic so most online shoppers probably won’t ever come across the site.

One good aspect of MyHigh.St is the checkout as it’s quick and easy-to-use, but the shipping costs are prohibitively expensive, particularly when buying from more than one retailer.

So though I support the idea of helping to get small retailers online, I think that the only people who will visit the site are customers that are already loyal to Wells High Street.