While some of the the top UK e-commerce sites are doing the basics reasonably well, many are failing to add extra value by using things like video and editorial content to promote their products.

This is the verdict of a dotCommerce study released today, which has looked at the websites of 20 online retailers in the UK, and benchmarked them against 24 best practice guidelines.

M&S came out top in the survey with a score of 82%, followed by John Lewis on 78%. The overall average was for the study was 68%.

Retailers getting the basics right?

Broadly speaking, most of the basics were covered on this selection of e-commerce sites, with good average scores for homepage layouts, consistency of page design and navigation across the site, providing an integrated payment screen, and confirming purchases by email.

However, some very obvious e-commerce best practice is not being followed on some sites. Providing contact details is one such example, with an average score of just 52% across the 20 sites studied, which is poor.

Ideally, customers should be able to find contact details easily, and be provided with a range of options to get in touch, a contact number, email address and postal address are the bare minimum.

While the study picks out Comet as a good example for providing clear details and a live chat option, Avon provides an example of what not to do on its contact page.

Avon contact details

It doesn’t actually give you a contact number. and instead attempts to deflect queries via an FAQs section and a contact form which provides no timescale for answering queries.

Indeed, if you manage to find the ‘how do I contact Avon?’ link, you are told to look at your invoice for the customer service number. Why not just provide it on the site??

Another example of retailers failing to cover the basics is with product images. While a simple picture of the cover may be OK if you are selling a DVD or a book, sites need to work harder for other products.

Play.com and Amazon are praised here for providing multiple images, video instructions, and the option to look inside book covers for a preview.

HMV scored just 20% here for its basic product images. This may be OK for CD covers, but for other items, such as this Fraggle Rock T-shirt, customers should at least be able to see the design more clearly:

HMV product images

The images are all small on the HMV site, and none that I found could even be zoomed in on, which makes it harder for customers to see the product properly.

Use of Web 2.0 features

According to the study, retailers can do more to sell their products by providing added value to customers by providing blogs, editorial content, video, social network options (such as adding product to Tweets or Facebook pages), and more.

This is the main reason for the high marks awarded to M&S and John Lewis, which provides a richer experience by using product videos and customer reviews.

However, not many of the retailers provided such content for website users. Just 45% offered any kind of editorial material on their sites to engage customers, and just 10% allowed users to submit comments or product reviews.

Product reviews are a proven sales tool and it’s surprising that many sites have yet to add user reviews. Amazon is the prime example here, not only providing reviews, but organising and sorting them to make them as useful as possible for shoppers.

Others though, including Maplin, John Lewis and Avon, have no reviews at all on product pages. I find it surprising that John Lewis isn’t providing reviews, as it is otherwise a very good example of a usable site which follows e-commerce best practice.


The lowest score of the study (17%) was for post sales email marketing activity. Just 40% of the retailers studied sent a follow up marketing email within ten days of purchase, and only one of these (from Tesco) was personalised.

This is a huge missed opportunity to build customer loyalty and increase retention, especially given the fact that email is a relatively low-cost marketing channel.