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On Monday, after a year of industry rumours and hushed gossip, luxury retailer Selfridges launched their full commerce offering, having previously only sold sundries such as hampers online.
…but I can’t. It’s actually quite good. Dagnabbit.
The homepage is clear, if sparse, with a flash animation that “spills” promotions across the homepage. The promotions end up a bit haphazard but it is eye-catching.
However, this just doesn’t work from an interaction perspective, and considering how accessible and usable the rest of the site is, this feels like a throwback to the bad old days of the Internet. The same feature could have been written using JQuery, and it looks lazy doing it in Flash. The "throwaround" function of these blocks is unnecessary, and looks like it's just a restyled version of someone else's work.
There’s also a link to the Selfridges blog, though it’s a bit lost amongst the kerfuffle. I won't link to it as there's a frankly frightening picture of Dame Vivienne Westwood in the latest post.
Oddly, the biggest call to action “Let’s Shop!” isn’t actually a link, and doesn’t go anywhere.
Site search & navigation
The navigation is clean, and utilises a mega-menu to present the options. These menus consist of Brand Rooms (more on them later), the subcategories, and addendums such as in-store services and a Product of The Month. At the time of writing, the Product of the Month was the same across categories, however I suspect this will become more dynamic as the site matures.
Use of the word "Product" here does feel somewhat odd, considering Selfridges Brand Language and their "Forget Self CTRL" campaign. I would have expected "Pretty, Shiny, Object of Desire of the Month" or something similar. If these offers were not only limited time but limited availability as well, I would argue a "Now or Never" campaign would be more effective.
It’s not immediately obvious that the in-store services change from category to category, however eventually you do notice that Tailoring, for example, is shown exclusively within the Menswear section.
Site search is handled well, with live filtering of likely matches. This not only covers product data but also extends to brands and categories.
Category pages continue the sparse style, but offer several interesting features, including grid size variations. Pagination is present but has been styled practically out of existence - I would be interested to see how many visitors get past the first page of a category.
It's quite interesting to see context-sensitive filtering options in place - in this example of the Men’s fragrance, I have subcategories of fragrance type.
It would personally be interesting to see this extended along the lines of what Les Senteurs does, or even a proper note search (basic note searching can be done on product description), similar to Basenotes.
The characteristic search could then be extended to cover trends for clothing, usage for accessories, and so on. It does seem odd that at the moment you can't filter on colour when buying shoes, for example.
I do have to say, that browsing around, you do feel that the product offering is somewhat...limited, especially within Menswear and Beauty, where practically the same brands (possibly a more restricted set) are available online as at the "other two" high-end department stores.
I was particularly disappointed to see that high-end fragrance brands such as Serge Lutens and Bond No 9 were not available to purchase online, as they are on Harrods.com. Though perhaps this will improve as brands become confident in the platform.
Selfridges.com does have this obsession with Brand Rooms, which it uses like “ floors”, for want of a better word, to separate out Casual, Designer and Luxury brands amongst others. I don’t believe this works from a UX perspective, and would be one to tick under “Internal Language”. This is repeated on its subcategory pages, however they do illustrate it will with a neat Arrow device to show the delineation of these Brand Rooms across that category.
If anyone from Selfridges is reading this, I totally prefer the arrows from the pre-launch beta site – giant chunky purple arrows. They were great.
This Brand Room concept is carried further into the Product Taxonomy, which is odd, and sometimes gets in the way of shopping.
For example, for this purposes of this review, I’ll be purchasing a really nice Longchamp La Pliage Tour Eiffel Weekend Bag. I’ll be mostly using it as a picnic bag, and as a way of annoying my partner, who insists it looks like something an old lady would carry.
So, looking at the breadcrumb trail left by my browsing, the Selfridges architecture is:
Home > Accessories > Brand rooms > Designer > LONGCHAMP > Luggage
When I would argue that: Home > Accessories > Luggage > Designer > Longchamp would make more sense.
I can see how it works with the brand of Selfridges however. When you walk in the store, each brand has essentially their own room to some extent, and allowing to brands to control the space their products are sold in will encourage them to sell online, which can only be a good thing.
Amazingly, some labels are generally reluctant to sell online, the ultimate being French malletier Goyard. They won’t even tell me what they sell, let alone how much it costs. This may however work in their favor as I have been know to haul myself across to their Paris store simply to look at a wallet. It was indeed fabulously expensive.
Product pages, you guessed it, are clean and sparse, focusing on product pictures, with more details available as an overlay. Further to this, a size guide is available where appropriate, as well as a stock availability indicator to add urgency to the purchase decision.
Some items, like this stunning Mulberry Alexa Clutch offer 360 degree views, as well as the standard multi-shot & zoom offered by Adobe Scene7.
I can imagine that some brands would be unhappy offering 360 degree views, due to possible counterfeiting issues. Louis Vuitton famously didn’t even show its bags from the back until recently. However, when you’re laying down over a thousand pounds for a bag, it certainly helps.
Selfridges.com offers a number of quite cool little features, that seem oddly underplayed at the moment but I imagine will become prominent as the site matures.
Oh yes, Account Management, sounds fascinating yes? However this feature on the Selfridges site offers an embarrassment of riches. Most interesting is the Connections option, which implies that social shopping is on its way.
This is where it gets cool. Essentially a series of mannequins that you can dress to try out different looks, these rooms can act as a simple wish list, however you can also socially enable them, share with friends & offer them for public scrutiny and comments.
Most importantly, these Wish Rooms offer a “Complete The Look” function, which acts as an intelligent cross-sell based on the items chosen.
There were some UX niggles around the wish room feature, moving back and forth between my rooms and others wasn’t as smooth as it could be, and the Complete the Look option has a completely unnecessary tickbox, but it’s a great feature when you play with it.
When browsing you do get the feeling that this is a just launched site. There's bits and pieces of incomplete or missing data, such as here which can interrupt the user experience, but I'm sure these will be resolved over the next month.
Whilst writing this review, I did abandon the checkout halfway through and left it overnight to see if I would receive an Abandoned Baskets email. I didn't. I would argue that during the teething stage of a site, anything that can detect potential errors or poor experiences and get people back to the site is imperative. Alternatively an Experience Monitoring system such at that offered by Sci Visum may be of use.
I also encountered occasional errors, as shown here, but again this site has just been launched.
The Selfridges checkout is neat and fully enclosed, with the call to action being only one of three elements of colour on the page.
There are some display issues around the Gift Wrap part of the checkout, however, interestingly Selfridges offer a Skip function, which performs the same action as pressing Continue. I would suggest that this temporarily distracts the user and adds a disjoint into an otherwise smooth experience.
The final Thank You page is concise, and follows most of the best-practice of Snow Valley's Thank You page report. Post-order communications, such as receipt and dispatch, are done well, with witty on-brand subject lines such as "Your order has left the building" and plenty of information for the customer.
I do have to say that at the checkout I encountered a more severe error, which meant during writing this review, I couldn't place my order. However, during each attempt to do so, an authorisation for the order value hit my card. I don't know the details however I assume that an unhandled response code from the payment processor would be to blame.
Selfridges.com did eventually correct this and I was able to place my order, with the assurances the authorisations will reverse out over the next week, however had I been purchasing a more expensive item this would have caused quite a problem.
I would suggest that a Card Decline Report built into the Selfridges.com engine at launch would have caught this issue more promptly.
Selfridges.com is certainly an excellent e-commerce offering, and is quite a leap considering where the company has come from. I would think the challenge now is to strategically build upon the offering with all the social features that the site hints at.
I would also suggest that a Microcopy review of the site is performed, particularly around the checkout and Securecode/Verfied By Visa page. The Checkout error I encountered was "Unfortunately we are unable to process your order as it has failed our validation checks" which does sound like it was written by a developer. I can heartily recommend The Construction of Instruction by Relly Annett Baker.
Clearly the site is still in a teething stage, and it is a bit harsh reviewing it so soon, but I would have liked to see more support infrastructure in place to identify and correct issues as they arise over the next few weeks. For example a live feedback mechanism such as GetSatisfaction, or an Order-based feedback area on the Thank You page or Order Confirmation email would have been welcomed.