UK online book retailer Book Depository launched a new version of its site recently, aiming to make it ‘best in class, in e-commerce terms’. 

It’s a pureplay e-tailer, and has certainly been performing well recently, with sales of more than £40m in the last twelve months, an impressive 160% increase on the previous year, and enough to make the Sunday Times’ Fast Track 100 list.

Book Depository homepage

I’ve been taking a closer look at the site…


The Book Depository homepage is well laid out and it’s easy enough to find your way around. For users that know what they want, the site search box is nice and prominent at the top of the page, while browsers can navigate using the list of categories down the left hand side of the page.

Other links, to bestsellers, offers etc are available on the top menu bar, though only a couple of these links were working when I tried the site out, meaning I couldn’t access the blog or interviews sections.

The rest of the page is taken up with featured books, including editor’s picks and recommendations, and charts. One interesting feature is the ‘watch people shop map’, which shows what people are buying around the world, plotting them on a map and showing their purchases:

Book Depository - watch people shop

This can be pretty interesting to watch, and can be viewed in full screen as well. It also has the added effect of reinforcing the international free delivery offered by the site.

Search / navigation

There is a nice big search box and some decent advanced search options for if you want to look for a book by author, title, ISBN etc, while the browse section along the left provides plenty of categories. The website indexes some 1.8m titles so good browsing and filtering tools are important to make searches manageable for users.

There are some good filtering options here; for instance, you can browse by category and sub-category, sort results by price, publication date and popularity, as well as do a keyword search within the filtered results.

This works well for some searches, but if you’re browsing through categories which contain a large number of titles, then these filter options are sometimes not enough.

Book Depository

For example, if I browse through to the General and World History section and search for ‘Stalin’, I still have 157 results over 8 pages to look through, which can be off-putting. Some further sub-categories like those provided on the Borders website would be useful, and would help users to produce a more manageable set of results.

Product pages

The product pages do the basics well, most of the crucial information on price and delivery charges is made clear, add to basket buttons stand out, while a selection of related titles is provided. 

Book Deoository product pages

There are a couple of issues though; while delivery charges are clear, information on when products will be delivered is harder to find. Perhaps a link to this from the product page might be more useful for shoppers.

Also, some more useful information on the books themselves could be provided. There is a space for reviews, but this is hidden below the fold, while more detailed information is hidden under the label ‘bibliographic data’. Some clearer labelling and greater prominence for this kind of information would perhaps be more useful.

Book Depository MD Kieron Smith, who we interviewed last year, introduced some useful community features when he worked on BookRabbit, allowing users of the site to upload their own books and rate them, which provides more useful reviews and ratings information to help people decide on purchases. These kinds of features would be useful on this site.

Checkout process

This process on the site is impressive and follows much of e-commerce checkout best practice advice. It has been streamlined to make purchasing as smooth and simple as possible, with just two steps in the process after leaving the shopping basket page.

Making users register before the checkout is generally a bad idea; as this example from Jared Spool shows, it places unnecessary obstacles in front of customers and can reduce conversion rates. The Book Depository deals with this issue neatly by giver users the choice of either entering their existing login details or checking out without registering, with the chance to register afterwards if desired:

Checkout process - registration

With the exception of the contact and privacy policy links at the bottom of the page, the checkout has been enclosed, meaning distractions have been removed from shoppers. Key questions which users may have, on countries delivered to, payment methods etc are dealt with by this menu on the left hand side of the page; users can click on the links and see the information below without having to leave the checkout page:

Checkout FAQs

The checkout process, which takes three or four steps on most e-commerce sites (or about ten on GoDaddy), has been condensed into just two pages; payment and delivery details, and order confirmation:

Checkout process

Shoppers are only asked for the information that is essential to make a purchase, making it as smooth as possible, while error messages on the site are clear, and give users instructions to rectify problems, including explaining details such as CCV codes on credit card, all without sounding too patronising: 

Checkout error message


While some more filtering and browsing options would improve the site, along with more reviews and useful information on product pages would improve the site, The Book Depository is impressive, especially for the clarity of information and the ease with which shoppers can complete their purchases on the site.

I’m also impressed by the fact that the site does not limit itself to selling books in the UK, but allows anyone around the world (with some exceptions) to buy from the site, and have their books delivered free, which is a simple and attractive proposition for customers.

Jake Hird has written on this blog about cross-border e-commerce and the opportunities for growth that it provides for UK retailers. The Book Depository, with its impressive sales growth, provides an excellent example of how well this can work.