Following another bumper month of online sales, we look at how the top retailers’ transactional websites compare.

As ecommerce continues to grow at a rapid pace in the UK, a retailer’s online experience can ultimately win or lose shoppers in their droves.

Etail sales surged 13.9% year-on-year in January, according to the latest IMRG Capgemini data, as shopping continued to migrate to digital channels.

But which businesses are setting the standard online?

Ecommerce specialist Summit has mystery shopped Britain’s top 50 retailers – based on Retail Week’s ranking of overall sales revenue – assessing them on four crucial factors that combine to either drive or damage profitability and growth.

Ease of buying

Top five

RankRetailerUser experience (%)Performance (%)Website quality (%)Ecommerce score (%)
1 Home Bargains 50 93 84 84
2 Zara 86 84 81 81
3 Apple 83 80 77 77
4 Ikea 88 79 77 77
5 Matalan 85 79 76 76

Bottom five

RankRetailerUser experience (%)Performance (%)Website quality (%)Ecommerce score (%)
46 House of Fraser 83 56 64 60
47 JD Williams 83 58 54 59
48 New Look 81 56 65 59
49 DFS 48 55 63 56
50 JD Sports 74 58 37 56

Ecommerce should make it “easy for retailers to trade” and “a pleasure for customers to shop”, Summit suggests.

But when it came to criteria such as site navigation, mobile friendliness and the checkout process, not all retailers lived up to that billing.

Value operator Home Bargains came out on top for its ease of shopping, with its speedy load times across desktop (1.7 seconds) and mobile (1.9 seconds) outshining its online rivals.

Research suggests that every extra second over a three-second load time benchmark reduces conversion rates by 7%.

“Retailers should ensure they regularly test loading times, particularly of their homepages, across desktop and mobile”

Conversion rates have traditionally been lower on mobile than on desktop, but mobile “plays an integral role in the customer journey, and therefore should not be overlooked”, Summit says.

Retailers should ensure they regularly test loading times, particularly of their homepages, across desktop and mobile.

Enabling caching of static content will also aid site performance – yet just 6% of retailers have a correctly configured cache validator, while 75% do not have a cache validator set at all.

Addressing that issue will not only allow retailers to make their websites faster, but ensure they are better equipped to deal with spikes in traffic, particularly around peak trading periods such as Black Friday.

Closeness to customers

Top five

RankRetailerSearch visibility (%)Social engagement (%)Brand (%)Marketing mix (%)Marketing score (%)
1 Argos 75 56 71 91 85
2 Asda 17 72 86 91 83
3 Boots 88 59 71 67 81
4 Tesco 67 65 86 61 79
5 Aldi 75 67 71 55 73

Bottom five

RankRetailerSearch visibility (%)Social engagement (%)Brand (%)Marketing mix (%)Marketing score (%)
46 Jacamo 50 28 33 45 37
47 Harrods 25 65 24 0 35
48 Waitrose 42 31 24 33 33
49 Miss Selfridge 25 41 5 2 28
50 WHSmith 25 30 10 9 20

Shoppers should be able to find retailers easily when seeking to buy online, and should be made to feel valued after they have made their purchase, Summit say.

Both paid and natural search visibility are crucial for retailers, but, according to Summit, 28 of the 50 businesses suffered year-on-year declines in searches for their brand.

“Retailers should avoid a high reliance on one or two marketing channels and should diversify across a range of outlets”

Arcadia brands Topshop, Dorothy Perkins and Miss Selfridge along with department store House of Fraser were among those found to be struggling with demand.

More than half of the 50 retailers were also too reliant on natural searches, Summit said.

It concludes that marketing directors need to better understand “the value of online and offline marketing and the levers available to increase brand awareness”

Summit adds that retailers should avoid a high reliance on one or two marketing channels and should diversify across a range of outlets including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube in order to become more visible to potential customers.

Appeal to customers

Top five

RankRetailerContent & promotion (%)Product (%)Conversion (%)Trading score (%)
1 John Lewis 88 87 95 89
2 Amazon 65 86 85 82
3 Harrods 86 64 97 81
4 Habitat 75 70 92 80
5 Marks & Spencer 81 69 84 78

Bottom five

RankRetailerContent & promotion (%)Product (%)Conversion (%)Trading score (%)
46 Topshop 52 51 75 58
47 Ikea 54 46 64 53
48 Zara 52 49 54 51
49 DFS 50 46 54 50
50 Home Bargains 48 31 33 41

Engaging site content and persuasive promotional messaging are crucial not just in converting website visits into sales, but in building customer loyalty.

The appeal of the product proposition and the strength of product pages – from item descriptions to photography and customer reviews – both play a part.

Two-thirds of online shoppers see high-quality product imagery as being “very important” in their purchasing decisions – 50% of the 50 retailers assessed have overlooked this fact by not including at least four images per product.

“Retailers should carry out small photo shoots – particularly on hero products – to properly showcase their propositions”

Customers are 12 times more likely to trust consumer reviews over brands’ descriptions, Summit says, and are almost twice as likely to buy a higher priced item based on positive customer reviews.

Yet 10 of the UK’s top 50 retailers still don’t include product reviews on their websites.

Retailers should carry out small photo shoots – particularly on hero products – to properly showcase their propositions, and work with third-party review services such as Feefo, Bazaarvoice and Trust Pilot.

Although they scored well through their site navigation and speed, Home Bargains scored poorly on these criteria, lagging well behind the likes of John Lewis and Amazon – both of whom provide a wealth of information to drive consumer trust and conversion rates.

Delighting customers

Top five

RankRetailerCustomer services (%)Delivery (%)Returns (%)Logistics and services score (%)
1 Tesco 49 100 89 88
2 Asda 48 99 89 86
3 Sainsbury’s 62 96 72 84
4 Asos 97 86 67 84
5 New Look 77 82 78 80

Bottom five

RankRetailerCustomer services (%)Delivery (%)Returns (%)Logistics and services score (%)
46 Harrods 80 19 78 43
47 Ikea 82 15 78 41
48 Home Bargains 48 35 50 40
49 The Range 61 18 78 39
50 DFS 49 6 33 20

Customer service is crucial is creating an online shopping experience that will drive repeat purchases, meaning that delivery, returns and responses to customer queries must all be at the forefront of retailers’ minds.

When it comes to delivery, speedy fulfilment is becoming increasingly important for consumers, but click and collect also continues to grow in popularity. Indeed, almost all of the top 50 retailers offer a click-and-collect service.

But Summit suggests that retailers need to be more aware of the “offline implications” of click-and-collect services, with a quarter of shoppers complaining about long waiting times to collect their parcels in store.

“Some 83% of customers now review returns policies before even making a purchase”

Retailers could address those issues by adding collection lockers, or having staff specifically available to service click-and-collect desks.

Grocers Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s made up the top three in this category, largely driven by their reliable and varied delivery propositions.

But their customer services and returns fell short of expected standards.

Retailers have focused so keenly on their fulfilment propositions in recent years that there is a danger of neglecting those two areas.

Some 83% of customers now review returns policies before even making a purchase. Retailers therefore need to ensure this process is as quick and seamless as possible to avoid losing custom elsewhere.

Top 50 UK retailers’ online performance, table in full

RankRetailerScore (%)
1 Asos  75 
2 Asda  74 
3 Tesco  73 
4 Argos  71 
5 Next  69 
6 Amazon  69 
7 Boots  69 
8 M&S  68 
9 New Look  68 
10 Sainsbury’s  68 
11 Aldi  67 
12 Very  67 
13 Dorothy Perkins  65 
14 Currys PC World  65 
15 Zara  65 
16 H&M  64 
17 Debenhams  64 
18 Morrisons  64 
19 John Lewis  63 
20 Superdrug  63 
21 Habitat  63 
22 JD Williams  63 
23 JD Sports  62 
24 Screwfix  62 
25 Littlewoods  62 
26 Wickes  61 
27 Sports Direct  61 
28 Carphone Warehouse  61 
29 House of Fraser  61 
30 Miss Selfridge  61 
31 TK Maxx  60 
32 Dunelm  60 
33 B&Q  60 
34 Matalan  60 
35 Ocado  60 
36 Topshop  59 
37 Evans  59 
38 River Island  59 
39 Jacamo  59 
40 Wilko  59 
41 Apple  58 
42 Waitrose  57 
43 IKEA  56 
44 Halfords  56 
45 Pets at Home  55 
46 Harrods  55 
47 WHSmith  53 
48 Home Bargains  51 
49 The Range  47 
50 DFS  42 

Methodology

The sample of retailers was chosen based on Retail Week’s top 50 UK retailers by overall sales revenue. Group retailers were broken up into their individual brands and scored separately.

Summit have scored each retailer against more than 280 weighted criteria points. This comparison of 14,000 data points was combined with mystery shopping every retailer, including buying and returning each product. The assessment was carried out between November 3 and November 17, 2017. 

For more information, visit www.summit.co.uk/scorecard.