Fashion retailer Whistles relaunched its website last week, and the resulting Flash heavy site is certainly different.

According to Whistles’ Jane Sheperdson, ‘We spent a lot of time researching best practice
online. We then threw out everything we had learned, and just designed
something that pleased us visually.’

This is an interesting way to approach the design of an e-commerce site, but what will the result be for the user experience?

Homepage

The review on Grazia describes the Flash homepage quite well; it’s effectively the size of a ‘large plasma tv which extends out beyond the edge of your monitor’, and by moving the cursor to the edges of the screen, you can move around the page.

The page contains several product images, as well as two or three videos randomly dotted about the page:

Whistles homepage

Getting the damn thing to stop moving can be a challenge at first, as the only place you can put your cursor and not move the page is an area around the centre of the page.

It moves pretty quickly too, which can mean that, as soon as you have found something you want to look at, it’s gone again. Or find a dress, and move to the area where the link to the product info is, and you will find the whole screen moving with you.

Essentially, while you can figure it out with some practice, it shouldn’t be this hard to use, and there is no alternative method of moving around the page.

Each product photo has a link on it which will take you to the product page when you click. Again this is something for users to figure out, especially since the cursor doesn’t change when you hover over a link:

The videos play in full screen, and will hit you with sound if you choose to play one, and there are no volume or mute controls to alter this. There are also no other options to forward, pause etc on videos. I also found the videos slow to load and play:

Navigation

There is a navigation bar along the top of the page so you can shop by collection, brand, or choose from product categories, while a search option is provided too, but you need to click another link before you can enter a search term. 

Select shop, for instance, and you end up on this page:

You can scroll up and down and click on one of the photos, or else on the category to view all items. After this, there are no further filters or navigation options.

In the case of the dresses page, for example, there are 69 relatively small pictures of dresses to look through, and to see a bigger photo or find details on price and size availability, you have to click on an item.

This makes for a lot of work on the part of the shopper and could become an annoyance. Showing product details when customers mouse over images, or providing filtering options would make browsing far easier.

Product pages

There aren’t separate product pages on the site, instead they pop up when you click on product photos:

All the required information on product information and availability is provided, and good quality, zoomable product photos are available, though the link back to the product details from the zoomed in photo is unclear: 

Also, some the text is very small, especially on the size chart and delivery details, meaning some users may strain their eyes attempting to read these details. 

Checkout process

The shopping basket page does the basics, total price and delivery charges and summary of contents, but provides no information on payment methods or any reassurances about server security.

Users need to register before entering the checkout process, or else login if they have already registered. As we have covered in other posts, compulsory registration can be a barrier to purchase, and some retailers have experience increased conversions by removing registration.

Also, the checkout process, though it is relatively sparse, has not been enclosed, so clicking on any if the links on the top menu will take shoppers out of the process.

Forms were easy enough to fill in, but in the case of errors, users have to re-enter all of the details they have entered.

In the example below, having completed all but one field on the payment form and clicked to continue, all my previous entry has been deleted, meaning I have to start again:

Also, by deleting everything entered, users may be unable to pinpoint the area where a mistake has been made, meaning that the same error may well be repeated.

Conclusion

The new Whistles site looks good, and is certainly different, but I think in several areas this comes at the cost of providing a decent user experience.

Retailers and web designers shouldn’t necessarily blindly follow all best practice guidelines, but I do think that the end user should be taken into account. In the case of this site, by ignoring best practice and just designing a site that pleases visually, it has made it harder for shoppers to use the site.

There are other issues I haven’t explored fully, including the accessibility of the site, and the SEO effects of having so much Flash on there.

Perhaps this approach works for this particular website’s userbase. After all, sales increased fourfold on the first day after relaunch, though the hype around the launch may account for this.

Whatever the reason for this increase, I wouldn’t recommend this kind of approach for e-commerce sites that want to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, as there are too many elements here that could annoy web shoppers.