The Littlewoods Direct website has relaunched this week with a
new name in an effort to appeal to younger customers, and billing
itself an an ‘online, social department store’

The site has been rebranded as Very,
and contains a social network element with contributions from
celebrities such as Fearne Cotton, as well as as the usual e-commerce
stuff. I’ve been trying it out…

Very.co.uk

Homepage

The homepage is pretty simple, with the majority of the page being
used to promote the various sections of the site; celebrity designers,
the Very Network, special offers etc, as well as offering an
explanation of the site to visitors who may be unfamiliar with the
name. 

All this means that there is less space devoted to navigation. For
users that arrive at the site and just want to get on with searching
for a product or browsing by product category, the links on the top
navigation bar and the search box could stand out better.

Also, the page is narrow, and seems to have been optimised for lower screen resolutions, which isn’t strictly necessary when most internet users now have 1024 x 768 or larger.

Further down the page, there is an email sign up option, which seems a good idea to get more subscribers, but this takes you to another where users are asked for more details.

This would be fine if this was used to get more relevant information
on things like preferred product areas, how often they want to receive
emails etc, but what is actually does is get you to confirm your email
address and full name, which is asking for extra effort from potential subscribers without getting any useful information to target emails.

Very email signup

Navigation / site search

The top navigation bar allows you to either click on the product
categories or hover the mouse over until a drop-down menu appears with
sub-categories.

Very drop down menu

I think this one falls into the category of ‘huge drop-down menus’ which, according to Jakob Nielsen, are good for usability since they avoid the need for tiresome scrolling by allowing users to see all the options at once.

This is certainly better than small drop downs that you have to
scroll down, but the ease with which you can lose the menu through
careless cursor control can also make a difference, and this one
disappears the instant the cursor leaves the menu.

One you click on an option or product category, there are some decent filtered navigation
options so shoppers can narrow down their product search by product
type, brand etc, with more filtering options, including price range, as
you narrow the search further:

Very filtering options

The site search seems pretty good too; if you search for a ‘black camera‘, then only black cameras are shown (on some sites I find that adding a colour to the search term doesn’t always work.

You can also confine your product search to a specific section of
the site, while the same filtering options you see when browsing are
there to help you narrow down your search results.

Product pages

The product pages on the site are decent, though varied in quality. Some pages, such as this one for a cot, provide a good range of images, showing products from a range of angles, while others are less impressive.

Very product page

The pages tick most boxes in terms of providing information, though the product descriptions are not especially inspring. Elsewhere, delivery information is vague in many cases, with some pages showing delivery charges, others not.

Information on expected delivery times was poor too. The page above
promises delivery within seven days, though this was as much as 14 for
other items. This can be vital for the purchase decision, as some
shoppers will want items as fast as possible.

A next day delivery option, or at least the promise to deliver
within a couple of days, should be provided where possible to lure such
customers in, while a vague 14 day estimate is just no good at all.

The pages also include the option to ‘Twitter this product’, as well
as adding it to Facebook and MySpace profiles, but the Twitter link
just places a bit.ly URL which leads back to the product page with no
accompanying text to explain it, which defeats the object.

Product reviews are provided where available, and these are done well, thanks to Power Reviews. The key here is to organise the reviews so that, even if there are a large number, they are easy to make sense of.

So, as well as an overall user rating, keywords are picked out from
reviews and listed as pros and cons, and other shoppers have the option
of rating the reviews as useful or not, while reviewers are also
verified, so you know that this person has actually bought the product.

Very product reviews

Social features

The Very Network looks to have some decent features, including a TV
section which contains various fashion related videos, ans something
called the VIP Lounge which promises live chat with Holly Willoughby,
Caprice, and other celebrities: 

Very VIP Lounge

The network also includes product reviews, grouped into various
categories and ranked by ratings score. This is reasonably useful, but
better use could be made by incorporating the review scores into the
search and filtering options on the main shopping section of the site.

The Very Network appears to want to be an exclusive club, or at
least give that impression, since logging in to the network is reserved
for ‘buyers’ and ‘insiders’:

If the aim is to build up a decent amount of users to provide enough
content, placing barriers in front of people (they have to fill in a
form giving details of interests etc) wanting to sign up for the
networks is a strange not the way to go about it, though perhaps the
aim is to prevent people leaving unreliable reviews and spamming the
site.

Basket / Checkout

The shopping basket page is fine, though it could provide more
information on things like the available payment options, as well as
giving some reassurance about security issues.

Very shopping basket page

At this point, it is necessary to register to enter the checkout process, and some customers may wonder why a date of birth is needed to buy from the site:

Registration

This information is really not necessary, and if sites insist on
asking for dates of birth and other such details, then it should at
least be made optional to avoid the risk of deterring potential
customers.

This is only the first page of registration as well. After this,
customers need to enter email addresses, phone numbers and set a
password before they can get on with the job of entering their address
and payment details:

There are a few potential sources of irritation in the process,
such as the error messages, which can be unclear. In the screenshot
below, an error message appears above the LCD TV I am on the point of
paying for, meaning that it has not been included in the total price:

The error stems from the fact that I have apparently not entered a
property type and phone number for the delivery address, but I have
already provided a phone number earlier in the process, while the need
to enter a property type was not made clear.

On closer inspection, this information should have been entered in
the box above, but I skipped past it because there was nothing to
indicate that it was obligatory to enter anything here, while
previously, required information was indicated with an asterisk.

Also, the small box turns put to be there to enter my dialling code,
though this is not immediately obvious, especially as only one box was
needed when I entered a phone number earlier in the process.

Not realising this means another error message appears, which is one
more source of frustration for shoppers, and something that could easily have been avoided with some consistency.

Conclusion

The Very.co.uk site is a mixed bag, containing some good examples of
e-commerce best practice, such as well sorted product reviews, decent
navigation and filtering options and site search that works well.

The network features look interesting too, though whether
restricting membership to buyers and insiders is a good strategy is
debatable. ASOS, which has some excellent community features on its site, doesn’t make it this hard to join.

There are drawbacks though, such as vague delivery information on
product pages, while the checkout process could certainly be improved. Far too much data entry is required to complete purchases,
especially for first time shoppers, which makes the process longer than
it needs to be and makes it more time consuming for customers.

So, a few tweaks here and there are needed to make it a more usable e-commerce site. That said, it’s much better than the recently relaunched Woolworths site, the last release from Shop Direct Group.