Online Experience Index – Fashion

March 25, 2014 12:26 pm

Online Experience Index – Fashion

March 2014 – Fashion ecommerce sites


Understanding, measuring and improving the customer experience is a pretty fundamental part of everything we do at SimpleUsability.

Whether we’re working on competitor/comparator testing at the start of a project, multi-platform testing across a number of devices, or an expert review, our research and the resulting recommendations help our clients to improve their customer experience and benefit from the associated commercial gains around improved conversion or internal cost savings.

Whilst usability or accessibility scales are common place, our intention with the Online Experience Index is to apply 30+ years of combined user experience knowledge to benchmark the overall user experience within specific ecommerce verticals and identify who is leading the way in delivering a powerful customer experience.

We report here a review of clothing retail websites Marks & Spencer, Hobbs, Karen Millen, French Connection, Boden, Oasis and Fat Face. Reviews were performed in the week of 10 March 2014.

Headline findings

  • Most sites communicated their brand and purpose of website well
  • The main navigation was clear and descriptive on most sites
  • Few provided support for search or clearly indicated the order of search results
  • Product pages were comprehensive and pricing clearly indicated
  • Most sites supported customers through the checkout process well, however, few allowed users to make a purchase without setting up an account


In order to score each site’s overall experience rating, a panel of expert UX professionals assessed the site in the context of a core user journey of browsing and purchasing an item.

The examiners rated the site on over 120 key touchpoints, which were tailored to provide a thorough, representative picture of the user experience. These were systematically weighted to denote the relative importance of each individual aspect of the site, and were designed to span multiple facets of the user journey, including homepage, navigation, search and product pages, as well as the flow and usability of the checkout process. From this, an individual rating was able to be drawn up for each facet, based on the overall usability.

In order to emulate a naturalistic user experience, examiners conducted the review whilst undertaking the task of browsing for and selecting items for an outfit, and proceeded to purchase these items as a new customer to that online brand.

The Index, by facet

Considering each facet of the user journey in turn, we found a variation of design usability across the websites that is highlighted through their individual ratings. The following diagrams illustrate the best and worst individual ratings by facet of the user journey.


The homepage announces the brand identity and the purpose of the website. Most of the sites in this review did this well, with the identity in the header and purpose of the website clearly shown above the fold. One site, French Connection, did something different. Their identity is dropped to the footer where it might be missed by users familiar with finding the logo and identity in the header.


In general navigation was done well in these sites, using a top level menu in the header with drop downs for the sub categories. The labelling was clear and descriptive with few examples of jargon. All sites honoured the back-button and most made good use of breadcrumbs to help locate users and provide additional navigational routes.

Sites should, however, take care that navigation is clear and distinctive from other elements of the site. For example, the header on Hobbs crowds the main navigation menu with the search, basket and sign in elements that may overwhelm and confuse users. One site, Fat Face, used an innovative form of navigation that may confuse users new to the site.


All site provided a search function for users and on most sites this was easy to find in or close to the header. Few sites, however, offered search prompts to help users type in search terms and few offered suggestions for spelling mistakes or zero results sets.

In general search results were displayed in a similar layout to product listings, enabling users to interact with them in a familiar way. However, it was not always clear what order results were displayed in or how many results were available. French Connection, for example, displays a count of results much higher than the number of items displayed and obscures the function to sort the results under the Filter link so the casual user may be very confused.


Most sites provided well organised filters that enabled users to narrow their results within several categories. For some sites, for example Karen Millen and French Connection, features within the filters were displayed with very low contrast that may cause problems for users with visual impairments.


In general the sites broke down the process into several stages and clearly indicated the stages up front. Most also allowed users to move backwards and forwards in the stages to enable them to make changes. Few sites allowed users to make a purchase as a guest, so unlike buying from a high street store, the user was forced to set up an account with the site to make a purchase.

The Index visualisations

The following diagrams draw together the individual ratings to visualise, by retailer, the user experience across all facets of the user journey.


Total index score: 80%

Error messaging does not appear until user clicks in field. It is not clear that an error has been made. However, when shown, the messaging is clear and direct.

Karen Millen

Total index score: 78%

The filter options may be difficult for visually impaired users to see due to poor contrast. Poor colour contrast in the filter also means that selected filter options are not very visible.


Total index score: 74%

Number of search results found does not match the number of products that are returned.


Total index score: 81%

Changing delivery country means you lose all the items in your basket. This appears when you choose your location the first time you visit but it is not helpful.

Fat Face

Total index score: 72%

The main navigation looks like a filter, so when an option is clicked, the user is taken away from the search results and into the main navigation.


Total index score: 83%

‘Use express checkout’ call to action is hidden compared to the other options and clicking on this cleared the basket.

Marks & Spencer

Total index score: 86%

The information help text had not been completed for the ‘Security number’ field and read ‘DummyWhatsThis’.

The ‘Phone number’ field highlights a mandatory field but the customer is allowed to progress onto the postcode field. After interacting with the postcode field, the mandatory field highlight disappears and gives no indication why the ‘Continue’ call to action is not available.

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Watch out for our next online experience index which will have some new features including; persuasion centred design and scores based on the mobile experience.

We’ll be adapting our index to add sector specific questions and omit areas of the index that are not as relevant depending on the subject that we are reviewing.

Our plan is to target particular categories and topics moving forward. We’ll be looking at how well department stores are bringing multiple department shopping experience to end customers, and looking at specific categories such as shoes and younger fashion.