Both retailers are using mega drop down menus for homepage navigation. These take up a lot of screen space but can show a wide range of categories at once.
People spend more time browsing on websites than buying. Indeed, a study by Jeff Sauro found that, at any given time 68% of a site’s visitors are browsing.
This highlights the need for good navigation, so shoppers can browse and discover products with ease.
Large drop down menus can help this, as they allow retailers to see everything at once, and see the relationships between categories at a glance.
Images and icons can also be used to draw attention to certain products or promotions, as Next does here with the Men’s Shop.
Site search usage will vary between sites, and can also depend on how usable the function is and how much sites push it.
For example, Amazon’s larger site search box is likely to drive more usage. It’s also necessary thanks to both the size of its product range and the need to be able to enter longer product names (e.g. cameras and TVs with serial numbers).
Some estimates put the average percentage of site searchers on ecommerce sites at around 15%, and these can be valuable visitors; those arriving on site with a particular product in mind, and with a greater propensity to purchase.
This is why it’s important to optimize site search to provide users with fast and accurate results.
Both sites have noticeable site search boxes, yet neither is pushing them in the way Amazon does. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it may be the best approach for them.
Auto-complete in site search is used by both sites. It suggests relevant products as users type, thereby speeding up the process.
River Island suggests categories too, which can help to narrow the search results for users.
The key for search results pages, especially for broad searches which may return lots of product matches, is to allow shoppers to view and narrow the product selection according to their preferences.
Both retailers achieve this well, with plenty of options to filter and sort searches and narrow down the number of results.
Product pages should provide all the information that customers need to decide on a purchase.
Returns rates are often high for fashion retailer, partly because customers are unable to try clothes on before they buy.
In order to minimize returns rates, its important to provide a range of images and key information around products.
River Island’s pages are clear, with product images to the fore. There’s a good choice of images, clear product information and a call to action that stands out from the page.
Next’s product pages are slightly confusing, as they show several products (all those worn by the model) on the same page.
This is more in the style of Next’s catalogues, and makes sense in that context, but it can make it harder to focus on the main product.
Aside from this, there’s a good range of images, and Next uses video well to show products.
Both sites are using product pages to promote stores. River Island has a stock check tool, which shows whether items are in stock at local stores.
However, it doesn’t use this to promote its click and collect option, which seems to be a missed opportunity.
On the other hand, Next promotes its collect option, promising collection in an hour on many of its product pages.
This is a compelling offer, and Next leads customers from the stock check tool straight to checkout if they choose to add items to their basket.
Shopping Cart / Checkout Process
The shopping cart page should act as a gateway between product pages and checkout, providing a summary of cart contents and total costs.
Both cart pages are similar, but the two sites take slightly different approaches to registration.
River Island has the choice of sign in for existing customers and a new customer option. It looks like guest checkout, as customers just need to enter an email address to proceed.
However, customers create an account on the next step. It’s slightly misleading, though it’s a simple enough process to complete and move on to the next stage.
Next takes a similar approach, but makes it clear that new customers will be creating an account in the next step.
Even though this is the same amount of form filling as River Island, it could be more of a barrier to customers, as people dislike having to create accounts.
Both checkouts are easy to use, with simple form fields and clear information. Both also offer some choice around payment methods.
River Island has a PayPal option in addition to card payment:
Next provides those options too, but also pushes its buy now, pay later options.
For the new customer, this is the first time in the process they’ll see this option.
It could be an attractive proposition for some, so it’s odd that Next doesn’t make people aware of this earlier. Used on product pages, for example, it could be a sales driver.
Summary and Recommendations
Both sites are relatively easy to use, on desktop and mobile, but there are a few possible areas to improve.
For both sites, a guest checkout option would help to reduce abandonments at this stage of the process.
Having to register before checkout is often cited as a reason for cart abandonment and a guest checkout option can avoid this barrier. This needn’t stop customers creating accounts either, they can always do this further on in the process.
River Island could learn from Next, and push its click and collect options on product pages via the stock check tool. People checking stock are showing an interest in visiting local stores, so it makes sense to let them place the order directly.
Next’s product pages, with several items shown on the same page, can be confusing. It draws attention from the main selected item, something which may deter some shoppers.
It may be better to make a clearer distinction and present the other products as cross-selling options for customers to ‘complete the look’, leaving more room to show the selected product.
Graham Charlton is Editor in Chief at SaleCycle. He's been covering ecommerce and digital marketing for more than a decade, having previously written reports and articles for Econsultancy. ClickZ, Search Engine Watch and more.