Hot on the heels of their recent content improvements, Amazon have added a new feature to the Vendor Central A+ tool. Now, when you generate preview links for your content, it’s possible to choose between both “Desktop” and “Mobile” layouts.
You’ll find it’s easy to switch between the two layouts on offer in the tool. In a nice touch, the generated URLs all have a “deviceType=___” suffix, making it simple to organise multiple links.
Mobile Preview: Here Comes the “But…”
Annoyingly, the mobile preview contains none of the new content improvements that were rolled out in the summer. This means, as a mobile preview …it doesn’t really work? You’ll find that much of the content is hidden behind a “concertina” interface that no longer exists. The image display sizes are often smaller than what you’ll find on site, too.
It’s frustrating, but once again this is a step in the right direction, with plenty of room for improvement. As soon as Vendor Central is updated with the latest set of layout tweaks, it’ll be a great tool for creating content on all platforms.
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.