Debenhams launched a brand-new version of its website earlier this week.

As well as revamping the site, the retailer has added new product lines, including electricals, though this has been outsourced to Buy It Direct with a separate checkout.

I’ve been trying out the new site to see if the user experience has been improved…

Homepage

The homepage is well laid out and easy to scan, with the majority of the page pointing visitors to different departments and collections, rather than actually displaying any specific products.

The page now has what Jakob Nielsen calls ‘mega drop-down menus’, which display large numbers of product categories and sub-categories:

Larger drop-down menus like this one avoid some of the possible drawbacks of smaller versions, such as accidentally moving the mouse outside of the menu and having it disappear, or having to scroll down a long and narrow list of items.

Part of the thinking behind these menus was to remove mid-category pages to reduce the number of clicks between homepage and product pages, and with these menus customers can go to a more specific category straight away.

Site search / navigation

I tried a quick test on the site search for descriptive searches such as blue shirts, as well as some misspellings, and the results were relevant. Also, filtering and sorting options have been provided to narrow down search results.

In addition, Debenhams had added the option of searching for keywords within categories and sub-categories, though it only provides this option once you get down to the category pages, it may be useful to do this straight from the homepage.

The filtered navigation has been improved as well, with more options, greater ease of adding and removing filters and, crucially, the number of products matching each selection is displayed, which should help shoppers to avoid hitting a dead end when browsing.

I think it still needs some work though, as it can be confusing in some areas. For instance, when I searched for a suit, there are two separate filters for sizes; ‘size’ and ‘larger sizes’, which starts from 40in upwards.

These two options weren’t next to each other on the left hand side, and the chest and waist sizes are all mixed in together, which makes it more difficult to find your size from the list.

Also, having searched for a jacket and trousers in a particular size, I was sent to this product pages, only to find that the combination I had selected was out of stock, meaning that the time spent using the filtering options was wasted.

This seems to be an issue with a number of products on the site, and it could be a cause of customer frustration. If particular sizes are out of stock, it may be best not to display them at all.

Product pages

The product pages do the basics well, giving clear information about delivery charge, a size and measuring guide, a phone number to call if items are out of stock, and a clear call to action. 

Reviews have also been added, though since its gathering reviews itself, it will take some time to build up a decent number on its product pages.

Product images are a mixed bag on the site, and this is something Debenhams will have to improve as it updates its product range. There is only one picture for the suit in the screenshot above, which means I can’t things like the number of vents on the back of the suit jacket, the lining, and so on.

However, for this suit, all these views and more are provided, which shows how it should be done. 

Basket / checkout

The shopping basket icon on each page works well, and should catch the eye more than a simple text link would. However, the shopping basket page could be improved:

While the price and size is summarised, delivery charges are missing, and there is no information on payment methods, or reassurances about server security.

Also, the cross selling options are need some work, especially as so much of the page is devoted to this. While a pair of socks could be a useful purchase to go with a suit, the rest seem bizarre. Having bought a suit, do people really want a Toblerone or some jelly beans as well?

On a more positive note, the checkout process is well-designed, form-filling is easy enough, though it does produce an error when customers enter O instead of zero in their postcodes.

Debenhams provides choices around registration, so that customers can choose to register before they checkout or just go straight ahead, which is a good way to avoid making an obstacle out of registration while still giving customers the option.

The checkout process is almost fully enclosed, with only one link that will remove users from the purchase, and this is clearly labelled. This removes unnecessary distractions from shoppers sat this stage, and enables them to concentrate on the important business of entering card details.

Conclusion

Debenhams has been active in social media, it has a blog, a Twitter account and a Facebook group with decent numbers of followers/fans, and recently conducted an interesting Twitter experiment, where shop assistants in one store answered customer queries via Twitter,

However, as Trevor Ginn pointed out yesterday in his post on social media for retailers, there is no reference to any of this on the site, not even a blog or Twitter link at the foot of the page.

The site is generally easy to use, and is certainly an improvement on
the previous incarnation, though some further changes here and there would improve it further, and Debenhams does point out that this is not the completed version. 

Debenhams online sales hit £55.1m and visitor
numbers grew
36.8% in the year to August 29, so there is an opportunity here for the
retailer to make the most of this traffic growth with a better
converting site.