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.
When the Amazon A+ 2.0 system was rolled out, one of the touted benefits was better optimisation for mobile platforms. This wasn’t really a surprise – for years Amazon’s patchy implementation of A+ for mobile browsers and its own app has a thorn in the side for brands hoping to get their richer content in front of as many consumer eyeballs as possible. A+ has never been cheap, and with the number of us using our smartphones to shop rising year on year, this was increasingly looking like a missed opportunity for retailer and vendors alike.
Recent studies have shown that almost 80% of consumers are using smartphones to do in-store product research* when shopping for appliances. Amazon is also estimated to be currently lagging behind eBay in mobile purchases.
Sadly, the new system has taken some time to make good on these promises. Until recently, all you could count on seeing on your smartphone was a page of badly formatted text, with the occasional out-of-place image if you were lucky.
However, when the system was recently updated with a set of fixes, one of the tweaks was focused on mobile. Now, on both the Android Amazon mobile app and on mobile browsers, you should stand a good chance of seeing all the content that’s available on desktop/laptop screens.
Granted, there’s nothing particularly special on show. Whatever orientation your device is in, you’ll only get a single column which simplifies the layout of the A+ down to an image-text-image-text format. However, the order is logical, headers and subtitles are clearly defined, and the spacing makes it readable, even on a cramped screen. Some of the design elements even make it through the transition, like breakout boxes and bulleted lists.
There’s also a consistency to how detail pages now display in browser and app which is a nice and long-awaited touch. As you can see from the screenshots, there’s really no difference between the two platforms now.
iPad App and Windows Mobile App
However, all is not quite as rosy as it seems. When looking at products on an iPad or Windows device, the Amazon app is still not showing the new A+ content. Checking with colleagues, I’ve found the same thing on other iPad devices, but the iPhone App seems to display the content fine. Hopefully this is just a case of the iPad app version being slightly behind the curve, but we’ll keep an eye on it and update this post as and when changes happen.
*(Source: Deloitte, December 2013)
It’s been quite an eventful month since Amazon’s A+ 2.0 service went live on Vendor Central portals across Europe. Now that the holiday season is approaching, we wanted to take a moment to step back and share some of the key benefits, potential pitfalls and frustrations that we’ve found with the new system.
A+ 2.0 Advantages and Opportunities
- Comparison Tables – for the first time in a long time, we’re able to link from comparison tables to the products featured within. And it feels good.
- Comparison Tables Part Deux – being able to highlight a column to subtly indicate to customers which product they’re currently viewing within the full range is a small thing but amazingly effective. We can’t imagine living without it now.
- Comparison Tables: The Return of The King – did we mention how good they are now? Because they are pretty damn good.
- Responsiveness – uploads are happening with 24 hours of submission. It’s like it’s 2009 all over again.
- Flexibility – one of the more enjoyable aspects of the past month has been brainstorming optimal layouts for our clients. Even back in the largely-unregulated days of the mid-2000’s this level of A+ freedom wasn’t available (well, not to any polished degree). If you’re prepared to put in the work, you’ll be able to create effective and attractive pages for just about any product type.
A+ 2.0 Annoyances and Oddities
- Preview Issues – the fears we had about A+ 2.0 launching without a working preview system were mostly unfounded, but we’re still finding it temperamental on a daily basis. The main issues include not pulling through the latest saved version, and failing to display certain elements properly.
- Browser-based Problems – occasionally we’re finding some functionality that works perfectly well in Firefox doesn’t always behave on Chrome. Of course, your mileage may vary.
- Beware the Backspace – I’m fairly sure we’re not the only ones to encounter this particular frustration. Let me paint the scene: you’re head-down, working though the stack of product content you need to finish before the deadline. You notice a typo. You reach for the backspace key to exterminate the offending non-word… and then realise with mounting horror that you’d failed to select the text box correctly. Your screams echo through the office as you’re thrown back to the homepage, your afternoon’s work surviving only as a distant memory.
- Duplication Issues – we’ve not been able to conclusively replicate the causes, but sometimes a project will be duplicated for no apparent reason. This all adds to…
- A Cluttered Workflow – Not being able to edit or delete items from your project list seems like quite the oversight. Sadly, without a fix on the horizon it looks like we’ll have to sort through multiple “Test” and “My Project” junk items for the foreseeable future. Make sure you avoid having to do the same.
- Limited Flexibility – no matter how free you are to adjust the layout, the nature of the A+ 2.0 system means there’ll always be something you want/need to do that isn’t possible. An example would be adding an extra headers – adding extra text is easy but there’s currently no provision for throwing in an extra title for that paragraph as well.
- I Got 5 on It – having 5 modules available per page can seem generous, but not all modules are created evenly. Adding a banner image and product selector can dramatically reduce the amount of space available for your copy and images, and can make using these attractive brand-led elements less desirable than would first seem. The line has to be drawn somewhere, but the current limit has led to more compromises having to be made than is ideal.
- No Links to Multiple ASINs – long gone are the days when you could use a hidden-keyword search link to direct to multiple products. The move to ASIN-only links makes sense when you have parent ASINs (with colour/specification selector on the page), but that’s not always the case.