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WHSmith tops online usability

WHSmith tops online usability

WHSmith’s website offers its customers the best user experience out of the top UK high street retailers and marks an overall trend of improvement in website usability within the sector as we head into the Christmas shopping season, according to a new study released today. 

The 2008 Online High Street Usability Report from user experience consultancy, Webcredible, revealed that the WHSmith website topped the study of 20 top retailer websites with a usability score of 83 per cent, a massive rise of 33 per cent.  The site moved up from 17th place in last year’s rankings, while last year’s top site, HMV slipped to joint 3rd place.

After only achieving a worrying average usability score of 57 per cent last year, the 2008 report will make happy reading for the UK’s top retailers as almost all have improved their website usability since last year giving an average score of 67.7 per cent. 

This demonstrates an acknowledgement among top high street retailers that the user experience of their websites is crucial in maintaining and even boosting online sales in today’s challenging economic environment.

The top retailers are now addressing the basic rules of good usability that had often previously been ignored, such as hidden delivery costs, confusing check-out procedures and repeated error pages. 

This improvement is most obvious in the case of WHSmith, but other big improvements were seen with Hamleys climbing from 15th place to equal 3rd, improving its score from 54 to 72, and the Early Learning Centre climbing from 8th in 2007 to 2nd in this year’s rankings, boosting its score by 16 to 75.  Such was the substantial improvement across the board that HMV slipped from 1st to equal 3rd despite improving its usability score by 2 per cent. 

Similar cases were seen for Game which fell from 2nd to joint 11th and Mothercare which fell from 3rd place to equal 17th, despite both either maintaining or slightly improving the user experience of their sites.

“The increasing trend of consumers shopping online to find the best deals, particularly in the current financial climate, has caused retailers to really focus on the user experience of their websites to ensure that they do not lose customers because of bad usability.  Drastic improvements have been seen with the likes of WHSmith, Hamleys and the Early Learning Centre and companies like Marks & Spencer that had slipped in last years rankings have come back strong,” comments Ismail Ismail, Director at Webcredible.

He continues, “With Christmas 2008 expected to be the biggest year yet for online sales, competition in usability in the online retail market has clearly increased drastically, with retailers who have either maintained or slightly improved good user experience scores from last year, falling dramatically in the 2008 rankings.”
The criteria used to evaluate the websites takes into account the complete ecommerce experience, including browsing and navigation, the checkout process, searching and product display pages.
Most significant improvements

Search term and number of results are clearly displayed at the top of search results pages

Summary page is used and clearly shows the purchase hasn’t been made

Sort and filter product options are available

Product categories are clearly visible on the homepage

Product description and enlargeable image provided

Webcredible analysed the websites of 20 of the UK’s leading high street retailers in October 2008.  An identical study had previously been completed in October 2007 and 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 from  


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