Pet products retailer Pets at Home launched a brand new website last week, a long-overdue revamp.

The previous version of the website was a disappointment for such a well known retailer, especially as it was the obvious place to go online for things like fish tanks and cat scratching posts. 

So how does the new version of the site, which uses Salmon’s e-commerce platform, shape up?

Homepage

The homepage is relatively busy, but thanks to the white background and colour scheme, it avoids being too cluttered, and the essential elements; navigation, checkout and baskets links, search box and so on, are all easy to pick out.

Navigation

The colours on the tabs help to make the top navigational links nice and clear, though there is a slight problem with some of the drop-down menus.

On some of them, the cat and dog menus for example, the menus stretch down below the page fold, so users without a mouse wheel (or who don’t use it) will be unable to see the links at the bottom.

Elsewhere, the site search works well, and it is easy to browse through the categories since decent filtering options are provided:

filtered navigation

Product pages

The product pages are clear and well laid out, with plenty of blank space which makes the page easier to scan. Also. Reviews have been added to the page, which is always a good move.

Cross-selling options are good, displayed just below the product images, and of the pages I checked, they were relevant to the main item on the page.

The images are decent, and can be zoomed in, though for more expensive or complex products, alternative angles or possibly videos would be a way to improve them.

The only real problem I found was with one or two items that turned out to be unavailable when I attempted to add them to the basket, such as this rabbit hutch:

There are better ways to handle out of stock items than waiting until customers attempt to add them to their basket. In this case, alternative rabbit hutches could have been offered, or users could have been directed to local stores stocking the item.

Basket / Checkout

On the shopping basket page, while the summary of products is clear enough, delivery charges aren’t displayed, so the total amount to pay is still unclear at this point (unless they qualify for the free delivery offer), not something customers would generally expect.

It does say that delivery charges will be revealed on the payment page, but I’m not sure that this is good enough, since there is still plenty of form-filling to be done to get there.

Delivery charges can be a deal breaker, so it makes more sense to be upfront about it, displaying this information clearly on product and basket pages.

Also, I have my doubts about prominent promotional code boxes, and this shopping basket page makes the code entry box very prominent. For me, this box is suggesting to customers (those without codes) that other customers are getting a better deal than them.

This is likely to send customers back to Google to look for voucher codes. Indeed, a recent basket abandonment survey found that 27% of shoppers left the process to search for codes. Whether this 27% will come back again, or will find a better offer from another retailer while on voucher code sites, is debatable.

I have a few ideas of how to deal with the issue of voucher code boxes, such as making the boxes less visible, or providing alternative discount codes next to the box for those that want it. 

A good checkout process should avoid friction for customers wherever possible, and form filling and error messaging is one such area where problems can occur.

During registration, I had to re-enter and confirm my email address, which seems an unnecessary step, as well as doing the same for the password.

There is also a table for entering the names and birth dates of all the pets in the house. While I can see that this is useful to the retailer for marketing purposes, it does make for more work for the customer, especially as it is not made clear that this particular step is optional:

Having forgotten to confirm my email and password, I only received an error message explaining the former, meaning I had to go back and add the password after clicking ‘next’. In fact, there was a third error I was unaware of; I had left a gap between the area code and the rest of my phone number, and this caused a problem.

There are a couple of points here:

  • Error messages should be clear and informative, alerting the customer to the input error while providing information on the steps required to fix the problem. In this case, it only highlighted one error at a time, a potential source of frustration for customers.
  • Customer errors should be anticipated wherever possible to minimise problems. So, accepting phone numbers with or without the gap between area code and the rest of the number, or gaps between the first and second parts of postcodes can remove sources of friction.

Conclusion

The new Pets at Home website is a massive improvement on the previous incarnation, and generally delivers a good user experience, though there are some easily fixed issues, clearer delivery charges, improved forms etc, which would improve the usability further.

Perhaps the eagerness to get the site launched in time for Christmas means that there is still some work to be done to improve the site.

Also, since Pets at Home has a network of 200+ stores, the introduction of a reserve and collect service would make perfect sense, as other retailers like Halfords and Argos can testify,  though this is something which is likely to follow this revamp.