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Ecommerce accounts for around 5% of all grocery shopping in the UK and is set to be worth around £7.5bn this year.

That figure is predicted to grow to just over £11bn by 2016, so it’s certainly a market that’s worthy of attention.

I only recently made my first online grocery order and wasn’t particularly enamoured with the user experience, so thought I’d trial the checkouts of the three big supermarkets – Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Asda – plus online-only retailer Ocado.

It’s worth noting that although Morrisons is one of the UK’s biggest grocery chains it still hasn’t launched an ecommerce site, though it does have an online wine store

Sainsbury’s

Sainsbury’s asks customers to enter their postcode upfront in order to ensure that it can actually deliver to their address, however full registration isn’t required until you enter the checkout process.

The minimum spend is £25, which is made clear while you’re shopping, but I feel that this detail could be made more obvious.

The same goes for the ‘Checkout’ CTA when you hit the minimum threshold, as it’s a tiny yellow button set against a yellow background.

This is a common theme through the checkout process – the CTAs are tiny, little things that don’t stand out or create any sense of urgency.

Bizarrely, it also asks where you first head of Sainsbury’s – surely nobody can remember that?

Sainsbury's also makes a mess of the postcode lookup tool, as once you’ve selected your address from the dropdown menu it doesn’t automatically populate the fields as one would expect. Instead you have to then click a ‘Go’ button next to the dropdown menu, which is a particularly vague CTA.

I didn’t notice this button so when I tried to go to the next screen I was hit with an error message and had to re-enter my address.

On the final checkout page the same problems arise. The ‘Please book a delivery slot’ CTA is presented as an easy-to-miss text link and the ‘Continue shopping’ option is actually bigger than the ‘Send order’ CTA.

Furthermore, it says that as my order is less than £40 delivery will cost £6.95, then when you go to the page to select your delivery slot the prices actually range from as little as £2.99 up to £5.99. Which is it?

On the plus side, you can specify an hour-long delivery window from any time between 9am and 11pm. 

But while the usability isn’t great, Sainsbury’s does do a good job of upselling items. It had a multibuy offer on one of the mince products that I had in my basket, so suggested that I add one more item to take advantage of the discount.

Similarly there were discount offers for asparagus, ice cream and Ryvita present on the checkout page.

Tesco

Rather than just checking your postcode, Tesco requires you to register all your personal information before you can even begin shopping.

Personally I find this to be quite frustrating and at least if you put it at the end of the shopping process then the customer might be put off abandoning their purchase as they’ve already spent time filling their basket.

It’s made worse by the sheer size of the form. Though Tesco only needs your name, address and a password in my browser there was a huge amount of small text and white space, which makes the form seem quite daunting.

Furthermore, in an effort to make the site more accessible Tesco allows you to choose a viewing profile based on your browser capabilities.

It’s a good idea in theory, but it also means that it forces everyone to choose whether they want JavaScript or hover-over boxes, and I’m fairly certain that a majority of people won’t know what that means.

And like Sainsbury’s, Tesco has tiny CTAs and asks how you heard about the company, with one of the answers being ‘CD-Rom.’

But Tesco differs from Sainsbury’s in that it has no minimum spend so I was able to place an order for just a few boxes of cereal.

The aesthetics also improve greatly following the initial registration page so the fonts are easier to read and CTAs actually stand out.

Delivery is available in any hour-long slot between 7am and 11pm with costs ranging from £3 to £6.

Overall Tesco’s checkout is more akin to what you’d expect from an ecommerce site than Sainsbury’s. For example it has a progress bar and blue CTAs that stand out from the rest of the page.

However it doesn’t enclose the checkout nor does it accept PayPal, so there are still a number of improvements that it could make to improve the UX.

Asda

Asda also requires customers to register upfront but its form is far less text-heavy than Tesco’s so doesn’t appear as daunting.

It uses a postcode lookup tool to speed up the process, but on the downside it doesn’t let you know that it’s compulsory to enter a phone number, which led to me being shown an error message.

Asda has a minimum spend of £25 which is made clear in tiny text below the ‘Checkout’ CTA. This is a really important criteria so I don’t know why supermarkets choose to spell it out in such small fonts.

On the plus side, Asda probably has the simplest checkout as it encloses the process so you aren’t distracted by other options.

It also has a progress bar and decent CTAs that are the brightest feature on the screen.

The delivery options don’t quite match up to the other retailers though, as the delivery slots are two hours long and are only available between 11am and 10pm. Delivery costs range from £3 to £5.

Ocado

When registering with Ocado it tries to push you towards using a Facebook login for some reason, selling the benefits of a social login while almost concealing the ability to sign up using an email address.

Even if you choose the email option the next page still tries to get you to sign up using Facebook, which is actually quite annoying.

Ocado’s minimum order is a whopping £40, but as it’s all Waitrose food it shouldn’t be a problem reaching that threshold...

The design is far more what you would expect from an ecommerce site, with large buttons, a simple layout and a big ‘Checkout’ CTA in the top right-hand corner.

However it only uses images to display the products in your trolley, which lacks the detail of having a list of all the items.

Elements of Ocado’s checkout make it the cleanest and most user-friendly of the sites I’ve looked at, but it is severely let down by its failure to quarantine the process and the amount of upselling it carries out.

Once you’ve booked the delivery slot you have to go through about five other pages of product options and flash sales before you get to the payment screen.

Also, the ‘Continue’ button appears in a pop-up at the bottom of the screen so it’s easy to be distracted by all the other options and the progress bar counts seven separate stages in the checkout process.

On the plus side, it manages to out-perform its rivals by offering free delivery for most of the hour-long time slots, though others cost either 49p or 99p.

Ocado also lets you know when it already has orders planned in your area so you can help your green credentials by saving on fuel. 

In conclusion...

The four retailers I looked at offered a surprisingly bad user experience, with Sainsbury’s arguably having the worst checkout process.

It failed to offer basic features such as a progress bar or decent CTAs, and the delivery costs were unclear.

The other retailers didn’t fair much better and tended to favour tiny fonts and miniature buttons. Furthermore, none of them accept alternative payment methods.

All had a few positive attributes - such as Asda’s enclosed checkout and Ocado’s CTAs - and kept form filling to a minimum, but in general they could all greatly improve the user experience.

Ocado in particular should be doing a better job as it is an online-only retailer, but I found its slightly unusual checkout design to be quite frustrating.

It’s also worth noting that the navigation and shopping experience was also quite poor on all the sites, although that’s something I’ll address in future posts.

David Moth

Published 11 June, 2013 by David Moth @ Econsultancy

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

1682 more posts from this author

Comments (7)

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Jordan McClements

The big supermarkets are some of the few companies that can get away with this type of thing.

My wife uses Tesco online all the time and I am constantly horrified by how bad it is, but they effectively lock you in as customer (offline more than online) (though they are doing this online now too with their equivalent of Amazon Prime), to the point where you are more likely to change your bank than your supermarket...

over 3 years ago

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Niklas Vaittinen

Very surprising actually, especially Ocado. For them, this is their core business, and it's quite concerning that the user experience they offer is not up to the level it should be.

Also I'd expect that extensive upselling might work against its purpose (one or two pages fine, people might actually have a look, but five pages - people will quickly learn to just click next until they reach the payment screen).

over 3 years ago

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Jack Jarvis, Owner at The Website Review Company

They all need to keep it simpler.

Sainsburys needs more white space and bigger CTA's.

Tesco needs to cut the text and make the forms smaller.

Asda isn't too bad. Can obviously be improved but overall better than the others.

Ocado is poor. Focusing on getting the social sign-up over the transaction one is bad practice. Aim 1 get the sale. Aim 2 get them back (this could be the social element).

over 3 years ago

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sarah hughes, Director and Founder at Datitude Limited

Oh, Gents, how wrong you have got this!

Grocery shopping is very different to other types of retail, both online and offline. The majority of online grocery customers will place orders weekly, or several times a week. It means different rules work in this environment: customers gain a level of familiarity with the process that they don't get with many other types of online retail. For the retailer, the management of perishable stock and complex delivery requirements forces additional complexity in the sign up and check-out process. I agree that these things could often be done better, but they still have to be done.

I am a huge fan of Ocado and its user experience. It takes seconds to place an order. I can understand why you found the checkout process frustrating, David, but if you are a regular customer, these pages are extremely useful when needed, easily ignored when not. And you're right, the Facebook thing is just weird.

Which?, the independent consumer group, carries out extensive customer surveys every year. For the online supermarkets, Ocado is the highest rated (at 81%) of the 5 surveyed, with a 4/5 star score for "placing the order". I think this most closely associates with the areas you've reviewed, David. Asda fares worst with an overall score of 61%. This is consistent with my own experience of Asda online.

over 3 years ago

Rhian Harris (was Simms)

Rhian Harris (was Simms), Digital Marketing Consultant at Consult & C Limited

I agree with Sarah's logic that the user may be used to the process and that there is additional functionality to remember shopping lists / favourites etc in order to speed up placing the order, but I don't think it excuses bad customer experience.

This logic implies they have not considered those shoppers who don't shop week in week out (me for example), or are first-timers. I'm sure there are plenty of users that do use it often and so are familiar with the service, but for those using it for the first time / infrequently, these oversights don't facilitate an easy experience. Likewise, I daresay there is a significant user group that fall into this category and either don't end up checking out at all or don't place repeat orders because of poor UX.

Just because a user is familiar with a process, doesn't mean it is intuitive. I still complete purchases, orders or bookings using sites with bad / confusing experience, but it doesn't mean I endorse it or that it's easy - it just means I am a determined user and am unfortunately used to bad websites. And quite often, I find an alternative means of making a repeat purchase that's less hassle i.e. go to the supermarket.

So yes, whilst I agree different online environments have their own norms, I don't believe a repeatedly poor experience makes it an acceptable one. Assuming users know the process well and are happy to accept it just because they've used it before is a fail, in my opinion.

Thanks for a great critique, David.

Rhian

BTW - A Sainsbury's delivery just turned up at my neighbour's flat! :)

over 3 years ago

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Ioannis Karlis

Hi David and all. Very insightful article, indeed.
I use Ocado on a weekly basis and it offers a quite poor user experience. I am yet no familiar with stuff like editing your order. There are many confusing aspects from the labeling of CTAs to the way they present the items that are on offer in your order. For instance, when you buy 1 pack of something and the second is half price, it is impossible to figure out whether the price presented when you hover over this item is the original or the reduced. I haven't done a usability test on this but it definitely has many problems. The only reason why I keep on using this is because of the consistently good quality and on-time delivery.
Even by thinking about the rest online retailers makes me shiver.

Best,
Yannis

over 3 years ago

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Angus Clacher, null at null

It's been a couple of years a lifetime in digital and e-commerce, have things moved on for the supermarkets?

Sainsbury's released an update this week which improves some areas and brings fresh problems to others. Sainsbury's refresh is largely a style change - the customer journeys seem to have stayed the same.

CTA buttons are larger and layouts are cleaner. It looks better as a visual design, it may be worse as a user experience.

Designers have followed brand guide lines and made the CTA buttons a complimentary colour of the brand rather than a clear call to action colour like green or the colour they changed away from yellow.

All the state colours have also gone, replaced by white. You used to get a yellow tint to let you know the system had added an item to your basket. This worked well for your peripheral vision. In the new version the text remains but the colour which provided the best visual indication that you have completed the desired action is gone.

The MyAccount has been improved if you are hip. My account has possibly got worse if you are not down with the kids and are unfamiliar with American West Coast design short hand. Does Middle England really know that clicking on your own first name is how you amend an order?

Any missed opportunities in this upgrade? Sainsbury's could have cut underused features and tried new ones in their place.

For example do we really need 4 types of favourites list? These list options look more like queries the developers can run rather than use cases
-Favorites on offer,
-Favorites by aisle,
-Favorites as a single list,
-Previous orders.

Surely the killer Favorites use case is a one click order of last weeks shop? Imagine that on mobile or email, one click and your weekly shop is done.

Perhaps the way to settle whether these changes or the ideas offered are a valid or not is to test them before release. Do they make it easy and faster for users. Does Sainsburys Recency, Frequency and Monetary value of each behavioral customer segment improve or worsen with the proposed change?

Sainsbury's could have released this version to a sample of their user base and run A/B tests to learn before they made these changes. As it stands we have a new style that somebody approved which is possibly retrograde but we don't know for sure.

11 months ago

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