At at time when online sales are growing rapidly for most companies, Marks and Spencer’s have experienced falling online sales despite a reportedly £150 million overhaul of their website. On the surface, their strategy was promising with an increased focus on video and magazine type content to interest visitors. This is a proven way of increasing sales where the product must stimulate an emotional response. However teething problems hit the new website hard:
- some customers have had difficulty registering on the site
- there were early reports of crashes
- customers apparently felt that there was too much video
- customers couldn’t find what they wanted
- the site was “awkward to navigate”
This lead to online sales slumping by 8%.
Alan Stewart, M&S finance director, said the website would be back on track before M&S’s peak shopping period of November-December. The conversion rate – visitors to the site who make a purchase – had been going up he said. “It is a bit like going to the supermarket for milk, they’ve moved it and you can’t find it immediately.”
Marks and Spencer are not the first and won’t be the last to mess up a website redesign. In their case the length of the project and its revolutionary rather than evolutionary approach has been blamed. An 8% drop would never happen at an Internet business such as Amazon, because they would have spotted it at 1% or 2% and rolled back to a better-performing version. So how can two years of effort by one of Britain’s biggest companies produce something that fell so short?
According to people in the industry, it is probably because the process took two years. The more monolithic a computer project becomes, the less likely it is to withstand the continual shifts in the way that we use the internet. “For M&S, the fact that it took them 18 to 24 months means whoever did the project planning was two years behind the curve,” says David Hamilton of Dog Digital.
The biggest sites, such as Facebook or Amazon, are changing all the time yet they never promote the fact, and the incremental, small nature of the changes makes them hard to spot. But that also means that if a tweak fails – which can easily be measured via statistics such as sales conversions or time spent on the site – then it can be abandoned and the site returned to how it was. The value of testing, good planning and acting on your key performance indicators cannot be underestimated.
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