Marks and Spencer, one of the oldest and most successful retailers in Britain, launched their new website early this year to a mixed bag of reactions. Although the move to a more magazine-style layout and tablet-optimised design seemed useful on paper, the actual user experience does seem to have been compromised - and M&S chief executive Mark Bolland admitted that sales have drastically dropped as a result (by over 8%).
Whilst the £150m website had been in the works for around two years, you have to wonder whether their planning was sufficient. Migrating to a new domain or re-developing your website takes a lot of planning. If this is something you are considering, then allocating enough time for planning is key.
What do your users expect?
Change has to be carefully managed. M&S has 6m registered customers, so ensuring they are fully consulted and on board with the plans for the new website should have been key. It’s rarely possible for every user to love every new innovation, but as any new site should improve conversion and sales rates, extensive user testing and consultation is key to ensure that sales are positively, not negatively, impacted.
The reaction from users has been, on the most part, negative.
A big part of planning is user testing. Many users are saying that the website has been “awkward” to navigate and in general, has been a “big mistake”. If users are having such strong negative sentiment, this is obviously going to have an impact on sales.
One other factor that seems to have contributed to their loss in sales is the fact that users had to re-register on the new site. With such a big existing user-base, this is clearly a big no-go. Why would you force users to sign up again and create a barrier to purchase?
Where has the functionality gone?
Another major mistake that we feel that M&S has undertaken is the move to a more stylistic design. It’s now more of a magazine layout and seems to have been optimised for tablets, but is this what their main demographic wants? In our opinion, the stylistic changes that they have made have been prioritised over functionality.
We definitely feel that although style and design is important, when you are having such a major website migration you have to proceed with caution, especially if you have an existing high volume customer base like M&S.
What are the key takeaways?
With stories like these, it’s easy to get scared off from updating your web strategy. But the reality is that companies should definitely be following on-trend innovations. You just have to do some important things in the process:
- Plan as much as you can
- Plan for audience reaction
- Plan for technical problems such as a challenging registration processes
- Make sure that key features from your old site still work on new sites. If a user has bookmarked something on your old site, how will they get to that bookmark when the site moves?
- Go for substance over style. Never the other way around.
If you are thinking about updating or migrating your website and need some help, don’t hesitate to get in touch!