50% of UK's Leading High Street Retailers Websites Offer Poorer Customer Experience This Christmas Compared to Last

Whilst online sales revenue from the Christmas shopping period this year is predicted to top ?10 billion, the UK's leading names in retail risk losing substantial revenues due to sliding standards of their online sales channels. Webcredible's annual benchmark study of online customer experience, The Online High Street, demonstrates that 50% of the UK's best known high street names offer a poorer standard of online service to customers than the same period last year. Overall, 55% of the retailers assessed dropped within the rankings compared to 2006 results.

With an average usability score of only 57%, these retailers will doubtlessly be losing site visitors due to mistakes that could easily be avoided. The most significant drops in usability were seen from Marks and Spencer who plummeted from a score last year of 81 out of 100 to just 55 and John Lewis who dropped nine points from 71 to 62.

Basic rules of good usability are often being ignored, leading to increasing frustration amongst consumers trying to find, view and pay for merchandise. Hidden delivery costs, confusing check-out procedures and repeated error pages are contributing towards a poor customer experience online.

There is good news for gamers and CD lovers though as HMV tops the rankings this year, achieving the highest score of 70 out of 100 and Game climbs from 18th place last year to 2nd in the rankings this year, improving its scoring from 35 to 66. Other positive news showed that last year's lowest score of 25 has increased to 47, indicating that although the number of websites offering a good standard of customer experience has dropped, there are fewer exceptionally poor customer experiences.

"High street retail sales growth is at its slowest rate since 1947, however, demand for internet shopping is at an all time high. You'd think that retailers would be investing in developing and improving the customer experience that they offer online, however a surprising trend this year shows that the quality of user experience is significantly down amongst last year's high fliers", comments Trenton Moss, director of Webcredible.

He continues, "The real leaders from last year, like Marks and Spencer and Boots, have dropped drastically in terms of scores and rankings coming in towards the bottom of the group. Many of the retailers have undergone big redesign projects this year and these report findings indicate that they have focused more on the front end design rather than the customer experience."

The criteria used to evaluate the websites take into account the complete ecommerce experience, including browsing and navigation, the checkout process, searching and product display pages.

Most common problems:
- No support for customers during checkout when errors occur;
- Poor product descriptions and enlargeable images;
- Delivery costs are not communicated at the start of the checkout process;
- Low visibility of the 'add to basket' button;
- Customers are not given sufficient help in choosing products e.g. special offers, recommended products, buyers guides;
- No or poor options to sort and filter products e.g. Sorting by price, colour or best selling products.

Basic customer experience essentials, like good product descriptions, enlargeable images and help options are absolutely key to online sales. When a customer is in a high street shop they can touch a product, view it from all angles and ask a shop assistant for help or additional information. By neglecting these online alternatives retailers are taking a real gamble by frustrating their customers and risking an increase in returns.

Methodology: Webcredible analysed the websites of 20 of the UK's leading high street retailers in October 2007. An identical study had previously been completed in October 2006 of the same sample of retailers. Each website was evaluated against 20 best practice guidelines and assigned a score of 0 5 for each guideline, with 5 being the maximum. With 20 guidelines in total, websites were assigned a total Web Usability Index rating out of 100. A full copy of the report can be downloaded fromthis page.

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