Usability Case Study #3: Debenhams

Charting somewhat unfamiliar territory this week as I browse high-street retailer websites – because it’s still better than shopping in person.  I’m after a jumper for my brother’s birthday, but just couldn’t face the Saturday crowds, so retreated back to the online world.

My brief was fairly simple: a good-quality, cream-coloured jumper, large, preferably knitted.

All the main retailer sites seem to be built on the same model – and it’s a pretty good one.  Perhaps because they’ve been forced to up their game in the current economic climate, or maybe because clothing purchases are, for most people (present company excluded) a pleasurable leisure activity, which means usability becomes an essential aspect of the website.  Always should be in my opinion, but the bean counters don’t always agree…

Smaller companies can learn a lot from how they do things – not everything here requires a big budget and a dedicated product or marketing department.

1.  Top-level navigation consisting of the main departments
2.  Mega menus for each department, with the main categories within it
3.  Filter functionality, usually down the left-hand side, once you’re in a particular category
4.  Thumbnails of items, that can be sorted on the page and have the basic info (product name, cost, colour)
5.  Product pages with multiple photos, stock information, item description, colour/size options, reviews, other item suggestions, “Add to basket”, delivery info, etc
6.  Clear, clean pages with plenty of white space

With the bar set high, it was the extras that made the difference. And that’s where I felt Debenhams just had the edge:

Lots of filters
My brief was specific, and the filters enabled me to narrow down 281 “jumpers & cardigans” to 12.  Admittedly, I had to choose “beige” rather than “cream”, which would have left me with a choice of one.

There’s no reason not to have lots of different filters – they can be collapsed in the left-hand column, and visitors can expand the ones they want to filter by.  As an aside, it was also useful to have the number of items within the category, to ensure that I didn’t select a filter that resulted in just one or two items.

Yip – had to do a double-take myself.  Never seen this before on a clothing product page.  Mind you, as mentioned previously, they’re not the sort of websites I frequent, so perhaps it’s just me being behind the times.

Anyway, it advertised the video in the search results thumbnail.  It took a few more clicks that strictly necessary to get it to play, but I was rewarded with a model wearing the item walking towards and away from the camera, like my own little catwalk show.  Word of warning: the way the model then faded into non-existence was just a little on the spooky side.

Model information
Oh yes, indeed. I was told the height of the model wearing the garment, and what size they were wearing.  Nice touch.  Don’t think I want to venture into the women’s section, though – I don’t want to know that they’re 5’ 11” and wearing a size 8, thanks.

Product details
Useful, relevant, accurate.  And displayed as a bulleted list, so it was easy to scan.

So was there anything left wanting in my online retail experience.  The only two things I could think of were: “compare” functionality, and; the ability to remove specific items from the search results.  If I could have removed the jumpers that I knew wouldn’t suit, I’d have been left with a page of contenders, which would have made comparisons a lot easier.

Was I successful?  Well, no.  By the end of it, I was so overwhelmed with all the various options, I decided to leave it until tomorrow.   So, perhaps the website wasn’t that good.

Are you a frequent-flyer of online clothes retailers?  What websites do you think stand out for their usability?  Leave a comment below…