John Lewis Product Content
Models looked at:
John Lewis’s image implementation brings together some of the features of the other retailers together into a cohesive whole. As usual, the main product image takes a prominent position at the top of the page, but the instant zoom-on-mouse-over element is a nice touch and allows customers to see the detail on the product without having to click through to a separate section or popover/lightbox.
To the left of the main image a simple vertical scroll element allows users to browse and select the full range of images, or choose to click through to an additional lightbox, where they can view the full set of media for the product (including video). All in all, it is a very nice implementation of product images, which makes it curious as to why more brands haven’t taken advantage of this space on their page. Of the five products we looked at, only two have more than 4 images displaying.
Once again Sony chooses to solely focus their imagery on the front of the TV, alternating between a blank screen and their ubiquitous promo image of a paint-splattered model. All the other manufacturers at least show off some of their UI functionality in their main images. Panasonic and Toshiba lead the way this time with fairly comprehensive offerings, while LG only has two images available.
Slightly less prominent than imagery, John Lewis requires you to navigate to their lightbox media window to view videos, either by a button under the images, or by using the “View Larger” option. In keeping with the John Lewis style these are tasteful, unobtrusive, and grey, which might explain the reluctance of brands to utilise this function.
Only two of the products we looked at (the Sony and Panasonic) have videos uploaded to John Lewis, and of those only the Sony seems to have content specifically for their products. However, even Panasonic’s presentation of the features of the Freetime TV guide might prove informative for certain customers, and both the video player and videos seem to load quickly without any problems.
Features and Description
Minimalism seems to be the name of the game with John Lewis, and to this end they have dispensed with any traditional product features section in favour of a section of descriptive content, something that seems to run counter to the trends we’ve seen elsewhere.
The amount of text too is considerable, with the models we looked at providing between 5-10 paragraphs on the various benefits of these TVs. Understandably all of the brands have gone for short paragraphs with sub headers, giving some of the benefits of an easily-skimmable features list with more immediate depth if required. The relative lack of difference between the pages in this area suggest this is either a format requirement, or that John Lewis themselves are generating this copy in-house using vendor-provided assets.
In a similar sense to how Argos display their specification, the John Lewis list contains roughly 30 items per product and sits below the description. However, the alphabetical order and similarities between the products suggest this is pulling data submitted from a required setup form, although some of the items are less dry than a simple YES/NO/[NUMBER]. The list is in alphabetical order, and along with the lack of any collapsing elements, it does make this section somewhat lengthy on the page and unintuitive to use, whilst also being far less comprehensive than the same section on the Tesco Direct site. However, the highlighted tool tips next to certain items are a great touch, allowing customers to instantly understand more about that specification and how it might influence their decision.
At first glance the John Lewis pages don’t seem to have any enhanced content – which comes as no great surprise. All of the elements we’ve looked at so far seem to adhere very strongly to their own sense of brand identity, with minimalist and unobtrusive design doing its best to inspire confidence in the consumer whilst also staying out of their way. Enhanced Content (EC) tends not sit well with such a philosophy. Even in the most controlled environment, the work of assembling such content often means that copy and assets come through from the manufacturer relatively unfiltered, bringing with them a portion of their own brand presence to the page. This is something that can go wrong quite easily, especially when the two opposing identities and philosophies clash, or when the EC is trying to achieve something beyond what the retailer site was designed to accommodate. There are a number of examples of this when we looked at Tesco Direct.
However, John Lewis has found a way to incorporate EC from Flix Media in a way that doesn’t run into (as many of) these problems. And that solution is to serve the EC up in a pop-up window.
As the content is from Flix, much of what you see is the same as that described in our review of Tesco Direct. One of the main selling points of Flix is their (theoretical) ability to serve up the same, on-brand, product content on every retailer website they have an agreement with. As the John Lewis EC section opens up in its own tab/window, there is virtually nothing to impede this and therefore this is the best Flix implementation we’ve seen in our study. Each EC section (with the exception of Toshiba and Samsung) operates as its own additional product page. All the content you could want is there – images, videos, features, annotated graphics, and a fully comprehensive specifications lists – all organised into their specific tabs. Without exception, each EC section has far more content than is available on the John Lewis page.
And that’s where this EC implementation becomes problematic. To get to this content, you need to find and click on a 39px by 39px grey icon of a camera hidden amongst the (unlinked) product review icons on the right of the page. Even when hovering over it, it announces itself as a “Product Tour”, and looks to all the world to be just another link to a video.
Again, much like the Tesco page, the restrictions of the retailer site are making finding enhanced content difficult and off-putting for the customer. Regardless of how well the EC is implemented, it’s still having to appear on a separate page, forcing the customer away from the buy box, and potentially getting blocked by the security settings of the browser. The EC pages have so much basic content that could be so much more visible and useful on the main page itself, but it seems like the focus just isn’t there.
Currys Product Content
Models looked at:
Smaller than those displayed on Tesco and John Lewis, the product images on Currys occupy the now familiar slot at the top left of the product page. There’s no mouse-over zoom offered, but clicking on the main image will show a larger version in a lightbox element. There’s no navigation options in this here, and trying to enlarge any of the additional product images causes the browser to navigate away from the product page to display the large image file instead, forcing the customer to keep hitting the back button to return to the product page/buy box.
Slightly better is the display of the additional images as thumbnails below the main image. This element requires no navigation, simply enlarging to accommodate the images provided for each product. This gives a very clear visual distinction between products with few photos (LG – only 2) and those with an overabundance of imagery (Sony – 15).
In a departure from other retailer sites, the main image for each TV only shows a hero image rather than illustrating the UI/functionality of the TV, which suggests this may be Currys editorial policy. That said, two of the brands omit these sorts of shots entirely (Panasonic and LG) whilst Sony hide theirs at the very bottom of their wealth of additional photos.
Currys is the first of the retailers we’ve looked at to use iSiteTV as their content provider for videos. As such, all videos are served in a separate window that’s accessed by clicking the Video icon underneath the product images. The video player and videos themselves load quickly, and the content includes iSiteTV-produced Currys-branded videos on the products themselves, as well as a selection of manufacturer videos on certain models.
This solution seems to be widely accepted by the TV manufacturers, with only Toshiba not having the videos option on their page. The “explainer” videos seem well produced, albeit without any physical footage of the products themselves and instead relying on manufacturer product imagery. The page, being rather plain, doesn’t give the same sense of being diverted to a different website as the John Lewis Enhanced Content does, but it does still serve to take customers away from the buy page, and could be blocked by default browser settings without the customer realising.
The features on the Currys page are quite low key, despite having a prominent position to the right of the main product image. Features are restricted to four short bullet points per product, which in these cases seems to main include resolution, tuner, processing rate, and an indication of the smart features of the TV. However, there’s enough differences between the products to suggest that this section is editorially led (either by the manufacturer or Currys themselves) rather than a predetermined set of specifications.
Currys product pages provide the space for large amount of product copy. Of the all the retailers we reviewed, we found the descriptions here to be the longest, ranging from 12 paragraphs on the Samsung and Toshiba products, to a huge 17 for Sony.
This space does not seem to have a specific word limit, with the Sony page nearly racking up a 1,000 word count. Wisely, all the descriptions utilise sub-headers and bolded highlights to help break up the text somewhat, but even with these aids I do wonder how many customers would commit to reading such a lengthy entire description when it is presented as a page of plain text.
Wisely, with the length of the product description, Curry has opted to present the specifications alongside in a two-column format, helping to keep the page length under control. These specs are broke out into categories for easier reference, and although there are only approximately 35 specs per product available, a number of these specifications list multiple values and features. All in all, this makes it slightly more comprehensive and easier section to peruse than the same section on Argos.
Once again we find familiar Flix Media content on these pages, but unlike Tesco or John Lewis this Enhanced Content is limited to just images and text, albeit attractively presented. For the first time every product reviewed has EC and, although each has its own manufacturer-driven look and feel, the integration with the page is generally better than what we’ve seen before.
The EC sits at a higher point on the page (despite the length of the preceding product description) so is easier to find, and fits in well with the overall page structure. The only exception to this is LG, who present their content in a tabbed slideshow which looks attractive but seems to have missing or unloaded slides even when viewed multiple times. What imagery there is helps to clarify and expand on the accompanying text, and there’s no superfluous repetition of imagery or video content (possibly due to Curry’s relationship with iSiteTV).
That said, the EC does essentially make the long description higher up the page pointless, or at the very least raises questions about how the page should be ordered. Ideally, the EC should be further up the page, and if there is a need for further, more granular information, a longer in-depth description can be provided either below it or on an additional page.
Looking over these pages during the past few weeks has been incredibly enlightening. Although the sample size we’ve used, both of products and retailers, is too small to be able to draw any larger conclusion about the market as a whole, we’ve been able to find enough commonalities to guess at some of the larger trends and issues out there.
One of these issues seems to be the ongoing struggle for retailers to create and maintain an on-brand product page that can present all of the different elements of product information to the customer in a way that doesn’t create a jumbled mess. As we’ve seen, no one retailer has been able to execute everything optimally, and differing focuses and restraints have led to some content being hidden away or omitted entirely. There are even some very basic aspects of certain pages that don’t function, such as visible navigational elements to allow customers to scroll through lists of videos or imagery. All of these things have an impact on customer confidence and buying decisions, but with increasing number of products being offered online the option to fix or change these structural elements is likely to become an ever more costly and resource-intensive one.
Cost, resource, and focus do seem to be likely key drivers of many of the differences we’ve observed. With each retailer website we’ve noticed a considerable difference in quantity and quality of content not just across the brands, but across the retailer websites. That a manufacturer could have considerable more imagery and video content on one retailer than another suggests that resource is being deliberately focused, and also hints at the effort needed to keep product ranges up to date consistently across all websites.
Our many years of experience have taught us how resource-intensive it can be to deal with differing editorial and technical requirements of multiple online retailers. To be able to work through these challenges is a costly process, so the prospect of being able to build one ideal product page or description and have that served up to all of your retailers is a tempting prospect. The presence of FlixMedia content on three of the four retailer websites suggests that the temptation to go down this route is only increasing. What will be interesting to see in the future is how businesses like Flix can find a way to work with (or convince) retailers to shape their website to better accommodate their content, or if we’ll continue to see the often awkward integration that we have now, to the detriment of the both product content on the retailer pages and the customer experience as a whole.
With spring upon us and electronics retail starting to wake up from its long winter hibernation, we thought it was time to start to look at how differently the UK’s other major online retail players treat their product content – Argos, Tesco, John Lewis and Currys.
This is a subject rich enough to spawn dozens of bone-dry research papers, so we’ve tried to keep things light and fairly informal. For starters we’re picking a representative product category, Smart TVs, to have a look at. We’ve chosen this product in particular because:
- Relatively high-ticket, “big purchase” items, where content can play a major part in the buying decision
- An element of complexity – as these are network capable devices with an operating system, there’s an onus on the product content to reassure customers that the product will be straightforward enough for them to use
- Commonality – all four retailers stock a wide range of these products, and have an established offering
Rather than trying to match up specific models (something that can be tricky with the number of retailer-specific models in the marketplace), we’re going to be looking at the content for the bestselling smart TV for each retailer from each of the following brands: Samsung, LG, Panasonic, Toshiba, and Sony. Where there isn’t a sales ranking, we’ll choose the top result shown with the “relevance” or “default” options.
By choosing the bestselling, we’re going to get a more representative look at what the average consumer sees when shopping the site, rather than focusing on the high-price hero lines that do much lower volumes. This is less about what’s the best possible content, and more about what’s commonly implemented by that particular retailer. Also, by checking the different manufacturers we can identify where content differences are potentially driven by differing marketing relationships rather than retailer policy.
Foe ease of comparison we’re going to split each of retailer’s pages down into 6 sections: Images, Video, Features, Specifications, Description, and “Enhanced Content” – where copy, images, video and other widgets are combined.
Models looked at:
Argos by default limits the number of images displaying on a product page to four – with one of these potentially taken up by a video link (more on that later). The full range of images only reveals itself when a customer clicks on a thumbnail or the “Larger/Other Views” link, which means there’s increased focus on the first 3-4 images for any product, but with an option to back these up with a more comprehensive range if desired.
What’s interesting as even this isolated and quite restricted section shows a wide range of approaches from different brands. At the extremes, LG and Samsung do the bare minimum by only providing 3 and 4 images respectively, while Sony go all out with a total of 21 separate images available to browse.
Samsung, with seemingly the most popular TV in the selection, choose to lead with an image that primarily highlights a graphic promising a free content deal to purchasers. Of the remaining 3 images, two essentially highlight the same UI features from the same angle (the front).
Sony, on the other hand, manage to highlight numerous UI features, product angles, details, mounting options and lifestyle images. However, their selection isn’t optimal in two senses. Firstly, the sheer volume of imagery pushes their video content completely off the “Larger/Other Images” view, making harder to browse. Secondly, their first two images highlight a generic promotional screen graphic (the old cliché of a model splattered with paint), and essentially inform the customer of nothing but the size of the screen relative to the size of the stand. They’re not alone in choosing this route – Panasonic also go with a generic screen for their main image (albeit football), but all the other manufacturers place more of an emphasis on their UI.
Videos in Argos are displayed in a separate player that pops up when you click on a video link (much like the images). You can get to the videos in two ways, either by a video link on the main product page, or via the Larger/Other Views link that also displays the images. However, this seems conditional on the number of product images uploaded – any more than 8 causes the video section to be shrunk to allow for the extra thumbnails. Any more than 16 images will push the video links off this page completely.
Part of the reasoning for choosing Smart TVs in this comparison was the assumption that the nature of these products would require manufacturers to go the extra mile to help explain some of the newer concepts and functionality to customers. What we’ve found on these Argos pages is that for many that job has been delegated to Argos themselves, who have populated every one of these models with a selection of their own videos explaining Wi-Fi functionality, the differences in HD resolutions, display types and more. These videos are light and generic out of necessity, but do a good job of explaining the basic considerations for anyone completely unfamiliar with the subject. However, they obviously are unable to go into any detail, and can’t help with the process of comparing on TVs features to another.
Some manufacturers have gone some way to redress this by including their own videos as well. LG provide a feature video for this particular model, while also taking the time to explain their WebOS system in a separate clip. On the flip side, Samsung have relied exclusively on Argos’s own videos here.
Panasonic and Sony have also paid for their own Argos-produced product focus videos. However, something to bear in mind about Argos video is that their player is missing visible UI elements to show customers that they can scroll through a list of videos rather than just being restricted to the ones already showing. I only discovered this by accident and a little amateur detective work, but it has resulted in the Sony product feature video being buried at the end of this hidden list where I’m certain the vast majority of customers haven’t even viewed the link, let alone its content.
Features and Specifications
Argos does have a separate section for product features, so I’ll be looking at the combination of these two sections. For TVs at least, there seems to be a set list of 30-40 specifications that are required for each product, which are displayed in a segmented bulleted list in the middle of the page.
This means the list isn’t that long, and can be more easily used to compare between different models due to the standardised layout. However, it also means the list isn’t as comprehensive as some of the other retailers provide, and the key product features are lost within a very dry set of specifications and dimensions.
Again, taking a different approach than many other retailers, customers have to scroll well below the fold before coming across any descriptive copy about the product’s features or suitability. Even then, this description is limited to one or two paragraphs, giving only a brief summary. The only exception this this is on the LG, who have managed to get their summary a little higher up the page, albeit at the expense of having to repeat themselves in the standard product description slot.
Either not available, or not taken as an option on these 5 models.
In a sense Argos are sticking with their catalogue roots by placing most of the emphasis on imagery (and it’s more modern cousin video) in try to help persuade the customer. Sadly, both these methods are also being hamstrung by odd UI choices and differing levels of focus by the manufacturer marketing teams.
Models looked at
In a contrast to Argos, it’s Toshiba leading the way with 20 product images, with Sony having the fewest this time with only 4. Interestingly all manufacturers have chosen to lead with an image of their UI in action, but once again we see the same habits for some manufacturers of sticking with front-only shots, providing variation with small changes in camera angle, and the addition of generic images on the screen.
Toshiba do the most to provide different angles and shots of their system and features, but they also allow similar images to be repeated multiple times without any particular benefit. However, as the Tesco layout allow for customers to see the full range of images without having to go off the page, a wider range of images does seem to have the potential be more effective here.
Again video display is a little more intuitive here than at Argos, displaying at the top of the page in the product image section. However, despite its prominence only two manufacturers have taken the opportunity to upload videos, and of those only Sony’s loaded – LG’s refused to play for me.
On the Tesco website, features are given a very prominent position – right next to the product image at the top of the page. However, they are limited to 3 and seem to be restricted in word count, and also are a little lost amongst all the pricing, bundle and promotional info in that area.
All manufacturers have taken advantage of these, and (possibly due to a Tesco requirement) all say roughly the same thing in the same concise way:
- Screen resolution
- Wi-Fi Connectivity
- HDMI Connectivity
Situated just below the fold, the Product Description section seems to allow for a reasonable amount of descriptive text about a product, with each manufacturer providing 3-4 paragraphs in much a similar vein. The section is expandable, and Samsung have tried to use it to link to a PDF explaining more on their range, but the link has now been removed suggesting that there’s active policing of content on Tesco’s part, even if the link made it past the upload process.
This section picks up right after the description with an expandable list of various TV specifications grouped by category. In all there are roughly 60 specifications from 11 categories, making this quite a comprehensive list. The collapsible nature of the specifications also takes up less page length than a straight-up list, but it still turns out to be a hefty chunk of real estate when you consider what’s below it.
That’s right, not only is it below the (other) description. Not only is it below the specifications. To find the expensively-produced enhanced content on any of Tesco’s pages you have to go past the special offers, around the bundle deals, and take a left at the customer reviews before you reach the unimpressively titled “Additional Information” section.
By my count, you need to go down past at least 8 page folds before you find this content. Considering that the only sections below it are sponsored links and recently viewed items, I wonder what % of customers ever make it this far down.
The probable reasons for this placement are twofold:
- The Tesco product pages (and by extension their CMS) was not designed to handle enhanced content on the page. The Additional information section, like many other examples out there, was clearly designed (or placed in after the fact) to be a flexible part of the page that cater for any unforeseen additions to the page layout, and not to be an integral part of the product content
- The enhanced content here is provided by FlixMedia, and served up through their system
As such, the layout and content of these enhanced sections varies wildly, with no two being exactly alive. All combine some element of imagery with much-expanded copy to further highlight the products, and some include additional videos and product images – sometimes, repeating what’s further up the page, sometimes completely eclipsing what’s in the top section. This seems like an obvious misstep, but maybe it is just a symptom of the manufacturer’s frustration with the limitation of retailer websites? It possible that many would rather put their resources into something that’s more comfortingly on-brand, than have to spend the time amending their messaging to fit the constrictive requirements of the retailer.
The “On-brand” nature of these sections is so dominant that it’s actually a drawback. Not one of the enhanced contents fit in with the design elements of the Tesco site as a whole, making them seem alien and awkward. This isn’t helped by layout problems or with the way the content is served. Samsung’s suffers from formatting problems that make it a masterclass in extraneous white space. LG’s content is disjointed with jarring shifts in font style and size. Toshiba’s essentially lifts their page directly from the Toshiba website, and adds nothing new. Sony’s, in addition to having a wealth of imagery which would’ve been better utilised at the top of the page, is so heavy that slow connections can leave you with a screen that is filled with a confusing jumble of half-loaded elements, and no indication that this isn’t the finished product.
The only product that escapes this is the Panasonic, as they seemingly haven’t opted for Flix content in this instance.
The Tesco product page layout has a lot of potential to be an extremely persuasive tool in the hands of the right marketing team. Uncertainty over videos aside, it provides ample space for key information and puts it squarely in the customers eye-line from the moment the page loads, while also providing great opportunity to expand on that initial interest. However, the enhanced content section seems to have stolen focus away from these keys areas and, with it’s unfortunate placement, this is to the detriment of the pages as a whole.
Currys, John Lewis, and Conclusions
Join us next time for at look at the other two retailers in our survey, and our conclusions.