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E.M. Forster, great Victorian-born champion of the internet, sorry, humanism, once wrote this:

"Letters have to pass two tests before they can be classed as good: they must express the personality both of the writer and of the recipient".

The Royal Mail's revamped website is the latest in a string of big organisations meeting new and improved standards in customer experience.

The aesthetic of the site accounts largely for its improvements, and the site as it stands can be seen, excuse me Edward, to express more of the Royal Mail's personality as well as those of its various audiences.

First, I'll look at some interesting little here's and there's from around the site before panning out.

Great copy given top billing

Here's a snapshot of the old site, focusing on services and advice available to personal users receiving mail. There's some good copy hidden here.

e.g. 'Going on holiday? If you're going away, find out about ways to manage mail in your absence'

But on the whole there's a weird mix of links, font colours and tones of voice.

 

Compare a corresponding screenshot from the new site, below. Although this shot shows details about only a couple of services, it demonstates aptly how:

  • Strong propositions work well - 'Planning a holiday?'..
  • ..backed up by informal summations of a service - 'Let us look after your mail'..
  • ..with matching pictures..
  • ..clear font..
  • ..and fewer, demarcated links.

 

Below is the best example of copy I've seen around delivery options. Taking delivery options, their product names and descriptions, and doing the human job for us of summing up what this means in 'real life'.

Brand-enhancing online shop

The online shop is now definitely for consumer use. There's still the option to shop for business, but the Royal Mail has taken the sensible decision to emphasis their heritage with the shop, and point business-users to an equally efficient microsite.

Evidence of this increased pride in the history of the service can be felt across the site I think.

Information, don't give me too much of it, or I'll BOUNCE

And the new site decidedly doesn't give too many ocular stimuli at once. Here's a comparison

First, see the old site's attempt of offering up tools. I cut this snapshot off, there were many more options below. Although the three column headings, and each tool/link name and their descriptions are clear taken in isolation, the effect of lumping them together is a bit much.

The new solution is much more elegant, with an interactive panel. What were the three column headings are now expandable categories, which tidy unsightly links away 'behind' the panel.

And on the right hand side is a nice help tool with option to chat, search or select 'top topics'. The call-to-action 'Get answer' is heroic.

  

Little widgets for everyone

Ish...In that some of these aren't exactly widgets, or some aren't strictly tools, but they look like widgets and invite the user in, and hide away more navigational ugliness (as above).

Here's an old one above, and a new one below. Royal Mail has always had the right idea here, but now they've carried it through with aplomb, and without the weird 'Ask Sarah a question' box. 

Say goodbye to 'Popular Links'

I think there's no better example of changing web design than the difference between parts of the old and new Royal Mail homepage.

Here's the old one, with the outdated 'Popular Links' section that offers a sort of admission of guilt on the part of site architecture of years gone by. 'We'll try to give you an easy and intuitive path across the site, but more often than not you can just focus on this collection of links'.

Then there's the new homepage which again gives us a pseudo-widget, as well as a top pane for navigation, and greases the whole thing up.

Help me!

As far as I could see from surfing the web archive, the old Royal Mail site lacked a help section. The new one, screenshot below, is supreme, and guides the user gradually through tons of information to a node of assistance. 

 

Touch me, feel me, love me

A great little example of good design. Below I've clicked on marketing services, and a pop-up (more of a slide-down) asks me if I'm a newb or a professional. This is the kind of stuff that used to be done with two choices on site, adding to the bewilderment of choices on page.

Not any more. I feel like the invisible hand of the Royal Mail has gently pushed me in the right direction. 

 

Homepage

Finally, take a look at the old homepage sat above the new. The old one does have pop-outs from each red box, which aren't shown here, but the new site offers more ways to efficiently find what you want.

This is due to:

  • More effective contrast of colours across type, background, and menus.
  • More effective use of different font sizes and symbols.
  • Larger homepage, allowing scrolling and encouraging review of options on page, before clicking away.
  • A top navigation pane with large and easy to use dropdowns.

 

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And so, the new Royal Mail website is another great example of what, for big orgs, is now not a nice-to-have, nor a must, but truly an organisation-defining asset and service.

Ben Davis

Published 31 January, 2013 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is a senior writer at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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Colin Towns

All your points may be valid but, seriously, your tone has seriously undermined any credibility in this review. "Supreme" help and support?
We expect eConsultancy to give us unbiased, actionable and professional reviews. This looks like it was written by Royal Mail's PR team!

over 3 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

@Colin

'Seriously', what's in an adjective? ;-)

Have a play with with the help and support functionality here http://www.royalmail.com/personal/help-and-support

It's great!

Let's be clear, other mailing and marketing services are available. If you'd like to review any of the competitors, we'd be more than happy to publish.

Thanks for reading :-)

over 3 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

As a footnote, I have found one question in the help functionality that isn't quite finished yet, showing there's always snagging to be done in a redesign. See the link below.

http://www.royalmail.com/personal/help-and-support/how-do-I-find-my-reference-number

over 3 years ago

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Colin Towns

Ben

Thanks for taking the time to respond to my criticism. As a team we have been looking at the RM site since its launch and also think it is a great example of redesign. Clear, uncluttered and obviously customer centred

My concern is that eConsultancy reviews are looked at as a benchmark for digital work and as such should (IMHO) be balanced for fear of undermining the review and the site itself. Your review left some of my colleagues wondering if it was a tongue-in-cheek review due to the language you used.

Having said that your use of language is entertaining and so we’re off to look for some of your previous blog entries!

All the best

over 3 years ago

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Anthony Hook

A very good desktop experience. No mobile experience at all.

Customer experience for me as a user of Royal Mail is let down heavily here. I often want to know where the nearest Post Office is and how much something may cost or the services I can get when on the move.

Let's hope they can move forward with mobile, I feel the site design lends itself very easily to a mobile layout.

over 3 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

@Colin

Thanks, and I agree. Although I did access the site on my mobile, I didn't write about the lack of mobile site/app as @Anthony has pointed out.

I imagine this is firmly in mind for Royal Mail. There's one or two price calculators out there in the app market, but with Royal Mail's tools on site, they should be able to knock up a good app soon enough.

In future I will be more circumspect and less watery with my language :-)

@Anthony

Completely, and thanks for pointing to this! (see my comment to Colin).

over 3 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum.co.uk

Ben

The RM use the Drupal CMS (open source, as used by the WiteHouse and many others).

Tim of Deeson Online (also here on eConsultancy) was showing me what they had done on Drupal for the ITV Press centre - quite a different user base, but a nice usable site.

It does look like Drupal has become a great platform for excellent sites, in the hands of usability and user-focused teams, like the Royal Mail seem to be.

Has anyone reading this used Drupal ? How did you find it?

over 3 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

@Deri

Yes! Drupal also used for Tate.org that I sung about here http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/11025-a-love-letter-to-tate-org-uk

I'm gonna go check out newly branded itv now.

Cheers

over 3 years ago

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andrew rowbotham, Director at Robot Creative Ltd

Shame though it's not responsive design, and the layout breaks, or sort of, when reducing the width of the browser.

over 3 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum.co.uk

Andrew

Yes, the lack of Responsive Web was the one big thing the RM seemed to have left out this time.

The Tate too.

Whereas Deeson online have done a great RW job on www.itv.com/presscentre

over 3 years ago

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Nick

The gist of this review, and the comments to it, is that web sites like that of the Royal Mail can be assessed by a knowledgeable visitor's review. I fear that this is not true. The real world test is whether real consumers with real questions manage to find the answers they seek and complete the transactions they desire.
As a user, who wants to buy postage, I find the new Royal Mail site functionality essentially unchanged, consequently from my point of view the rejig was a waste of resource.

over 3 years ago

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