Having been one of the higher profile victims of the credit crunch, Shop Direct Group relaunched Woolworths today as an online retailer.

There is still some affection and nostalgia for the brand, so resurrecting it online seems like a smart move, but how does the Woolworths website shape up?

Woolworths hompage

Homepage layout

I’m not especially impressed with the look of the homepage, and the site in general. A lot of the screen has been left bare, and the colour scheme and general look and feel is quite dated. It doesn’t compare well with rival retailers like John Lewis or M&S for instance.

Most of the space above the fold is dominate by a Flash display which provides three shopping options; main website, entertainment, and Party and Pick n’ Mix shop.

If you click on the main shop, you will get a display of small revolving pictures of random products. This takes up a lot of the valuable above-the-fold space without seeming to do much to actually promote products. A display of special offers, new stock, or bestsellers would be a much better idea.

It has added a feature which shows what people are buying from the site and plots in on a map of the UK. This is something The Book Depository has been doing for a while.  

It’s an interesting feature, though displaying a smaller version on the homepage, as The Book Depository does, might be a better way to promote it and showcase the products that people are buying.

Search and navigation

The site has been split into three separate sections, which is confusing for customers, and seemingly unnecessary. This is something I criticised Asda for last year, and sensibly the supermarket changed this when it redesigned its site recently.

Effectively, the three sections are separate websites, with distinct checkouts and shopping baskets. This means that, if you select some pick n’ mix, then decide you’d like to buy a DVD as well from the entertainment section, you will get a message like this:

Woolworths

The message tells you that you need to checkout before you visit a different section of the same website, otherwise you will lose the contents of your shopping basket.

In another example, the way the site is divided means that games and consoles are in separate sections, so if you want to buy an Xbox, then a couple of games to go with it, this requires them to register and checkout twice, and also means that Woolworths misses out on the opportunity to cross-sell games when people buy consoles.

This is absolute lunacy, as it’s something that will no doubt infuriate shoppers, who will not understand why they need to checkout twice to buy items from the one site.

The madness continues though, as different logins are also required for the three sections. Having already signed up for the party section, going to the trouble of entering and confirming email addresses and paswords, my login details would not work for the entertainment site:

Woolies login madness

Making customers register is questionable enough on e-commerce sites, but making them do it three times on the same site is asking too much of customers, especially as there’s no explanation at all as to why this is necessar. 

Returning customers, having registered for another section of the site to buy some pick’n mix, will wonder why their login details don’t work when they want to buy a DVD, and many will simply give up in frustration.

While the site search was accurate enough for the terms I tested out, it forces users to select a category to search within, which means that if you just type in a query and press search, as you would expect to be able to do, you get an error message:

Woolies search error

Forcing users to select a category first is just making them work harder than they need to in order to find something on the site. Using the search box indicates a degree of purchase intent, so it should be made as easy as possible to do. Let them search first and refine using categories afterwards if necessary.

Product pages

The pick n’ mix page is good, and is quite good fun to use. You do have to buy at least 100g of each type of sweet, so it doesn’t exactly recreate the instore experience, but this is understandable:

Wollies pick n' mix

Elsewhere, though the product pages convey the basics, they do lack a few features and useful information for customers.

Delivery costs are not made clear, which is a mistake considering that this is an important factor in customers’ purchase decisions. Product photos are basic, while the product descriptions don’t really make enough of an effort to sell the product.

Woolies product page

Basket / checkout(s)

Having added it to my basket and headed for the summary page, I do find out about delivery charges for this Xbox console, and crucial information, such as returns and security policies and contact details are provided via links on the page. There are also logos to reinforce site security and show the different payment methods available.

The checkout processes for the three sections of the site are different. All require some form of registration, though the Party section does it best, taking an email address and asking customers to set a password as part of the checkout.

Woolies Party registration

On the entertainment section, the registration process is the most annoying, making you enter the most information before checking out, though it does at least set out some of the advantages of registering; offers, order tracking etc.

On the main site, you are asked for your date of birth as part of the checkout process, and this is a mandatory field (though it isn’t on the other two checkouts the site).

While this may be useful for marketing purposes, this is something that some shoppers will object to, and since it isn’t needed to complete the purchase, it should be left out, or made optional at the very least.

None of the three checkout processes is enclosed either, with the main navigation links left at the top of the page:

Conclusion

I’m disappointed with the Woolworths website, the general look and feel of the site is dated, and it doesn’t stand up well next to rival retailers’ websites, or even other Shop Direct sites such as Littlewoods.

The way the site has been split over three sections seems like a big mistake, as it is terrible for the customer experience, and is likely to wind-up several shoppers with its multiple logins and checkout processes.

Elsewhere, while most of the basic are covered, and the site works well enough, there are several issues to be fixes, such as clearly displaying delivery charges and making the site search easier to use.

Relaunching a well known brand like Woolworths online seems like a good idea, but an appealing and usable website is essential to make it work, and this isn’t one. It doesn’t even improve on the old Woolies website.