What went wrong with the Marks & Spencer website redesign that made them lose sales?
Marks and Spencers, the british retail giant recently launched their £150 million website redesign to the public. However, the redesign that was two years in the making started badly leading to an 8% decrease in online sales not to mention countless frustrated and irate customers.
The most common complaints that visitors made were
- Couldn’t register on the site or reset their passwords.
- Navigation was hard to use and very different to the ones they were used to.
- Finding items they wanted was proving a challenge.
- Erratic delivery of items. Some customers had items delivered to the wrong address
Internet commenters were all shouting in unison asking for the old website to be brought back.
What went wrong?
We have to consider how long this entire process took – two whole years. Laura Wade-Grey led a team of 50 software developers and attempted a startup innovation approach to redesigning this website. This was a replatform moving away from the Amazon platform.
Frustrating user experience
Firstly, lets talk about the User Experience. For anyone, having to re-register their details on a site is undoubtedly going to cause frustration and that means visitors abandoning their cart and leaving the site. Previously stored details were now invalid because M & S’s new site had started from scratch abandoning their 6million user database during the transition.
Technical issues and bugs
Secondly,There was an unnaturally high amount of technical issues and bugs that brought the site crashing down during the launch. These bugs were not limited to site access but also wreaked havoc on users being able to buy and even if they did manage to achieve that, their orders were being delivered to random addresses that they hadn’t chosen. Furthermore, stock numbers were also erratic which meant that even if the order was successful, visitors were notified that the item was out of stock. These are basic usability bugs that should have been ironed out before the website was let out to the public. Thorough testing would’ve been part of the redesign process so its puzzling to see these rookie errors happening which would have had a detrimental effect on the visitor’s perception of the M & S brand.
Too much of a change for loyal customers
Lastly, it was the big launch that ultimately cost M & S. The redesign was seen more an event than an incremental process, changing everything “overnight”. Loyal customers who had been using the website for years had gotten accustomed to the user interface and the workings of the old website. Such a dramatic change would mean that they would have to unlearn and relearn how they use the website. Considering M&S’s key demographics, this should have been focussed on a lot more. Bigger websites like amazon also redesign parts of their site quite often but in a more controlled manner. I don’t doubt that M & S did usability testing with some of their target demographics but the resulting site hasn’t made many fans.
What could they have done to avoid it?
It’s all well and good hypothesising what could have been done better in the redesign process but the key problem was the fact that the redesign process took so long. During that time, trends have changed and world of online shopping has moved ahead as well.
Amazon do this all the time. They redesign pages or elements of their site frequently but where they are different is they know that their customers are used to their site and how to navigate it. Any changes would be incremental and would have to have a significant positive impact on sales and revenue before being rolled out live. A/B or MVT testing allows you to mitigate any risk and know for certain whether the changes you are making are positive or not. Drastic changes can never be monitored meaningfully and you won’t be able to separate the variables that are causing the positive or negative impact on conversions. With testing on your current site prior to redesign, you will hit a local maxima meaning that you have optimised as the site as best as you can in its current incarnation. It’s at this stage that you would take the learnings and move towards the global maxima with the redesign process.
What can we learn from this?
In a previous blog post, I had written why redesigning a site is risky and M & S are by no means the first or the last to fall prey to this.
Testing should be continuous and that means before, during and after the launch and rather than test drastic redesigns that take two years to push live, test incremental changes and filter those learnings into a redesign.
Redesigning websites can be risky especially when you aim to try and do “Big Launches”. Incremental and controlled changes which are closely monitored allow you to improve confidently. Marks and spencer may have other issues that could have caused the slump in sales but messing up their visitor’s user experience has certainly played a part in it.
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