--- E-consultancy identifies numerous problem areas on major online retail websites and makes dozens of recommendations to help retailers fix these problems ---

London, 15 May 2006: New research from E-consultancy.com has discovered many schoolboy errors in design and layout on some of the biggest and most respected e-commerce websites, which is damaging sales, brands and customer satisfaction levels.

The report, Online Retail User Experience Benchmarks 2006 (http://www.e-consultancy.com/publications/online-retail-user-experience-benchmarks/), investigates online retail from the perspective of a consumer. It concludes without any doubt that even the largest online retailers have a lot to learn about ‘the mind of the customer’.

Online Retail User Experience Benchmarks contains many dozens of recommendations, to help retailers boost the performance of their online stores, having first identified many real-world examples of how to annoy and confuse potential customers.

We conducted in-depth research by looking in detail at the websites of major retail brands such as Tesco, Amazon, Comet, Currys, Dabs, Argos and Next. Each of these well-established websites has a variety of fundamental problems that can be easily fixed.

“Can you remember the last time you tried to find and buy something online? The chances are you encountered half a dozen problems along the way. We’ve figured out the key problem areas, to help e-commerce companies improve the shopping experience for consumers, as well as their margins,” says E-consultancy editor Chris Lake.

Online retail trends include:

• We are now a broadband society. Broadband users visit online stores more often and are more likely to purchase products (compared with dial-up users).

• Customers don’t just want the lowest price. Online retail isn’t simply about finding the lowest price, but about ease of use. This means helping customers make up their minds. Product comparison, not price comparison, is the key to a successful e-commerce operation.

• Poor websites leave a bad impression. Research has shown that the average shopping session encounters six problem areas. Problems come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but one thing is clear: problems are damaging to brands.

• Search is a last resort. Although half of all purchases start on a search engine, consumers prefer to browse once they arrive at an online store. Search requires cognitive effort, which everybody tries to avoid. However, prompted search will combine the best of both worlds (do a product search on www.become.com to see prompted search in action).

• Lack of standardisation causing confusion. Retailers are not always speaking in the same language as consumers. Their websites all use different layouts and categorisation, forcing customers to think. In one example we tried to find a toaster on 11 top retail websites, and each one was in a different position / category!

Recommendations include:

• Highly visible persuasive content. Key information should be positioned ‘above the fold’, so that consumers do not need to scroll to find it. This should always include price, availability, delivery times and charges, ‘add to basket’.

• Minimise distractions. Avoid positioning distractions above the fold, such as promotions, tell-a-friend, etc. Keep customers focused.

• Upsells are great, downsells suck. Some retail websites actively try to sell you lower-priced products, when you are considering purchasing a more expensive item. This is madness, and will not help increase average basket sizes.

• Do not mislead customers. Broken promises and misleading statements damage credibility and trust. Consumers hate buying something only to find that the product is not in stock. If products are unavailable then make it clear from the outset.

• Increase feature-filtering options. Consumers are typically on one of two types of purchase journey (‘help me buy’ or ‘help me choose’). In the case of the latter they want to see solid feature-filtering and product comparison tools.

Written by Dr Mike Baxter, an online retail thought-leader, this 83-page report is invaluable for any company that is selling online. Implementing our recommendations will help e-commerce companies to improve conversion rates and customer satisfaction levels.

E-consultancy subscribers (£149 per year) can download the report from:
http://www.e-consultancy.com/publications/online-retail-user-experience-benchmarks/

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--- I’m a journalist, tell me more! ---
For more information on online retail, e-commerce trends or internet marketing please contact Chris Lake, editor (chris@e-consultancy.com / 0207 6814052).

--- About E-consultancy ---
E-consultancy is the UK’s leading online publisher of best practice internet marketing reports, research and how-to guides. Since moving to a paid-content model in 2003 it has amassed thousands of paying subscribers, more than 38,000 registered users and 150,000+ unique users sessions per month. Its weekly newsletter is sent to 20,000 users.

Subscribers pay from £149 per year to access the exclusive and highly practical content, which helps internet marketers improve their websites.

E-consultancy has more than 100 events lined up for 2006, including roundtables and monthly Supplier Showcases, where six suppliers pitch to an audience of pre-qualified buyers (typically between 100-150) in a Central London venue.

E-consultancy also provides a range of public and in-house training programmes, helping companies to educate their teams about internet business and marketing.

Published on: 12:00AM on 15th May 2006