Which websites are leading the way in the online world? Which ecommerce sites truly resonate with the biggest experts in the field?

In Retail Week’s celebration of online retail, Charlotte Hardie asked senior retailers and online experts to each nominate a site that they admire.

50 websites to watch

Some have appeared on previous years’ lists, many are new. But whether they are familiar names or lesser-known sites, all are great examples of online best practice from which every multichannel retailer could learn a thing or two


Kingfisher chief executive Ian Cheshire

“Because of its sheer intuitive ease of use. It’s seamless, and whether you want music or videos, it’s got it.”
Pixmania executive director Ulric Jerome “You only have to give your bank details once, there is great interactivity with the shopper and there’s a great selection of content. If you choose a film, I like that you can pay as you watch if you don’t want to keep it. I-Tunes has a simple interface, it’s connected to all my Apple devices and it understands the value of connecting technology.”


Ocado co-founder Jason Gissing “It’s so easy to use, mixing engaging visuals and editorial to create a true alternative to high street shopping. Asos’ huge growth demonstrates that the barriers to buying all sorts of things online are coming down. Consumer behaviour and lifestyle is changing.”


Waitrose director of ecommerce Robin Phillips “The Apple website and online store is a seamlessly integrated multichannel experience, making best use of all of their brilliant technology to provide cutting edge customer service.”


Mydeco.com chief executive Nicole Vanderbilt “I love jewellery designer Alex Monroe’s website. It is proof of how a personally owned and run business can really utilise the web to extend the reach of its product and brand. The products themselves are unique and beautifully crafted, and the site itself is clean, simple and easy to navigate. But Monroe goes one step further - he uses the site to tell the story of his designs and constantly evolves it so there is always something new or surprising. Recent additions include jewellery care tips and a bespoke design service.”


Mumsnet co-founder Carrie Longton “We know Mumsnetters love it because of recommendations from the Mumsnet talk boards, plus we’ve had reports of great customer service. I like the way you can order online and have it delivered to your local store.”


Ryman director ecommerce, multichannel and business Simon Curtis “It provides a journey that builds the intention to buy and to buy more, without the explosion of offers that clutter many sites today. It keeps it simple with great usability and has sympathetic commercial merchandising.”


eBay Fashion general manager Miriam Lahage “The fabulous team has done an incredible job of redefining the brand in product, in advertising and in the digital world. The attention to detail shows a relentless focus on the brand ethos. I am most impressed with the playful spin of making the trench your own. Truly inspired.”


Wiggle chief executive Humphrey Cobbold “I love this site because it captures the essence of understated cool road cycling gear. It is hard for non-cycling enthusiasts to understand the notion of many hours of road cycling or the idea of ‘pleasure through suffering’ - but there is a bit of this in all keen road cyclists. Rapha integrates this slightly strange essence of hard road cycling with a user-friendly site, excellent product, a feeling of personalised service, great branding, celebration of the sport and a unique brand signature. The site is more than just an online retail experience - it’s a cycle club, media store, a sort of quirky piece of online theatre that could only be assembled by slightly nutty enthusiasts and a great brand thinker.”
Former Ratners chief executive Gerald Ratner “Most websites offer what you can already buy on the high street but cheaper. Rapha offers clothes you cannot get anywhere else, so it’s the reverse. The website is arty andunusual, and the clothes are wonderful to wear and expensive, but last a lifetime.”


Charles Tyrwhitt founder and chief executive Nick Wheeler “I love that it’s easy and intuitive and works perfectly every time. It has changed the way I send cards and thank people. They are funny and clever and I love getting them as much as sending them.”


Brand Alley UK chief executive Rob Feldmann “It’s quirky, a little edgy and quite funky. It made a name in lingerie but is moving into new areas.”

amazon window shop (iPad application)

Shop Direct group ecommerce director Jonathan Wall “This is a very dangerous app that really brings browsing to ecommerce and harnesses the features of the iPad so well. It’s dangerous in that it makes you spend money on items you’d forgotten you really ‘needed’, but allows you to browse items in a similar way that you would if you were to walk through a retail environment.”


Aurora Fashions chief executive Mike Shearwood “Mr Porter is an exciting new site that not only was well launched but didn’t disappoint. I love the way content and transaction has been blended and it’s really a brilliant benchmark of what a menswear site should be. It understands men and fashion and it hits the mark.”


My-Wardobe.com marketing director Rob Moss “This is a fantastic grooming site, which sources luxury grooming products. The site is easy to navigate and the service is second to none. There is also rich, engaging content provided by their sister blog site Ape to Gentleman.”


Ann Summers chief executive Jacqueline Gold “Coggles offers a great selection of designers and brands. For me, the most impressive thing is that this website manages to take an independent retailer to the masses without losing the boutique feel of the store.”


M and M Direct chief executive Steve Robinson “Target.com has been my benchmark for functionality for a number of years and remains so. Easy to navigate, transact and a master of up-selling. It continues to innovate and is worth keeping an eye on.”


Warehouse MD Meg Lustman “This is an inspiring example of delivering a brand online. It’s a good transactional website, but offers so much more. The personality of the brand is brought to life with great editorial and excellent links without getting in the way of the transaction. The creative on the site is clear.”


Asos co-founder Quentin Griffiths “An established, profitable European site based on proposition, timing and execution.”


Practicology chief executive Martin Newman “This sells customised, bespoke handmade ladies shoes that the customer designs. I love the simplicity, the customer experience and the customer proposition, and I think it is a very clever business model.”


Aurora group IT director John Bovill “This local wine merchant has good site navigation and demystifies what can be a daunting customer journey.”


Notonthehighstreet.com co-founder Sophie Cornish “This US site is at the zenith of science-meets-beauty, packed with cosmetics that guarantee to make my life 100% better. I love the way they filter and organise the inventory. I can drill down to find products that meet ‘my concern’ (be that ‘lines and wrinkles’ or ‘fine lashes or brows’) or by ‘special feature’. With a reassuring mix of familiar and new-to-discover brands, Skin Store has got its offering and its site just right.”


JD Williams group development director Paul Kendrick “It has a great product range, but where it wins is how it presents the items and the level of additional editorial content. Styling guides and My-tv offer something different. Product is displayed with a variety of shots and good zoom functionality.”


Fat Face chairman Alan Giles “This is a profit-making business, but one that has raised some $10m for literacy charities in the US. It pulls all the relevant levers for the conscientious shopper - avoiding waste by re-using unwanted books, and raising money for great causes.”


Argos head of customer relationship management and ecommerce Kate Simon “Giff Gaff is incredibly innovative and customer centric - everything from product development to customer support is delivered or created by the ‘community’. In my view it has reinvented the retail business model by using social techniques - the big retailers could learn a lot from its approach.”


Daniel King, managing director UK and France at Kantar Media company Compete “Huddlebuy has set out to be the Groupon for small businesses. Its aim is to allow small firms to receive the same bulk order discounts that larger firms benefit from by using online group buying power. It’s a great model. It’s still in its infancy but I think it has great potential.”


WGSN senior retail editor Lorna Hall “This lifestyle brand’s website is small and perfectly formed. It’s easy to shop and totally brand representative. What raises it to a favourite is Toast Travels, its editorial section, which uses its aesthetic and cultural interests and inspirations to entertain and inform customers.”


Abel & Cole head of brand Claudia Ruane “This craft workshop website is eye-catching, different and fun. There is a lot of information but it helps decide which workshop to book. The site can be clunky in parts, but it’s such a fun, unique idea, that it’s forgivable.”


The Perfume Shop marketing director Matt Walburn “I’ve been using this site a lot recently on a home DIY project and it’s excellent. It has straightforward category navigation, keen pricing, and provides DIY advice and reliable order fulfillment alongside customer-friendly return options. It is truly multichannel.”


Superquinn chairman Simon Burke “There are lots of these sites for turning your digital pictures into an album, but this one is really comprehensive, very easy to use and sends regular updates and site improvements. The products are very well made and finished, and delivery is very reliable.”


Lifestyle blogger Liberty London Girl “I like it for its very good and unique design, great information architecture and clever curation. I want to buy almost everything on there. It never feels cookie cutter - there is always new and thought provoking product. It’s also an incredible place to find presents.”


John Lewis commercial director Andrea O’Donnell “If I’m looking for something unusual I will go to Etsy.com. Etsy is a marketplace for craftspeople, artists and artisans from all over the world. Without the internet this shopping experience wouldn’t exist and I for one am very grateful.”
VoucherCodes.co.uk co-founder and marketing director Max Jennings “When Etsy launched I remember thinking: ‘These guys must be crazy, haven’t they heard of eBay?’ That was until I realised its ambitions were far bigger than just selling stuff. Etsy’s vision is to reconnect makers with buyers - bringing everything together in one simple marketplace. Its ongoing investment in cultivating a community of independent vendors and discerning consumers has driven growth and success, creating not just a great place to shop, but a retail-consumer social network too. Etsy is a leader on the web when it comes to encouraging serendipitous discoveries. It has found a unique way of replicating the chance discoveries and purchases that we take for granted when shopping offline.”


Morrisons FD Richard Pennycook “Zavvi is easy to navigate and it is very clever at communicating with its customers. I would suspect that its conversion rates are extremely high.”


ShopStyle European director Shannon Edwards “Once upon a time you might have had that tiny boutique you frequented when you wanted something fabulous. You got to know the owners and took any suggestions they had about new designers and what suited you best. Today it’s harder to find the time or even locate such a shop. So that’s what I love about GlassworksStudios.com. It serves savvy, stylish women around the globe by cherry-picking cool looks and providing the right amount of editorial to help them pull it all together.”


Links of London chief executive Andrew Marshall “I have bought great value, bespoke shirts at Tailor Store that arrived beautifully packaged and within the advised time frame. The quality is good but the best part is the experience of deciding every feature of the shirt, thus it being unique.”


Claire’s Accessories buying director Lisa Bardell “This is a beautiful, quirky site that offers maps and shopping guides for London, Sydney, Copenhagen, Paris and New York among others. It has fabulous photos and descriptions of interesting independent boutiques and shops all over the world.”


Poundland chief executive Jim McCarthy “It conveys quality and the John Lewis brand values perfectly. You can tell there’s a lot of energy going in to developing its online business, and it wants to make its website easy to shop as its bricks-and-mortar stores.”

jackrussell clothing.com

Lands End managing director Northern Europe Tim Curtis “Jack Russell is a small menswear brand with a big personality. As a direct retailer, getting the product right matters more than fancy technology, and Jack Russell’s kit is classic British style, great quality, entirely European made, yet remarkably affordable. The website speaks eloquently to the fun, honest, dogged personality of the brand, yet it still covers all the basics: fast to load, simple and clear navigation, an easy-to-shop product page displaying availability by size and colour, and an easy and focused checkout.”


eCommera director Michael Ross “Comet has created a set of intelligent facets [search options] that help customers filter products as if they are talking to an expert. Faceted browse is the visual merchandising of the online world and Comet has recognised how to take full advantage of it. Also, the site has a light box functionality, which allows a customer to create a dynamic wish list, showing deep insight into how customers shop.”


Shopping.com UK managing director Russ Carroll “When planning a holiday I like to book places that are a bit different, away from your usual tourist trails. A site that I automatically go to for this and that always delivers is Mr & Mrs Smith. For memorable holidays, this is a site I turn to again and again.”


Reevoo chief executive and co-founder Richard Anson “I love the fact that it takes cutting-edge designs and then connects the consumer directly with the factory to save money.”


Giselle Bodie, COO Europe of social media monitoring firm Cymfony “It takes the pain out of finding and booking private and business lunches and dinners. You earn points to pay for meals if you write reviews and the reviews are an excellent source of up-to-date information about particular restaurants.”


House of Fraser ecommerce director Andy Harding “The range of products that it sells is truly astonishing. The site is as easy to navigate as any I have used and doesn’t try to be too clever - there is nothing particularly flashy or sophisticated about it. It is image light and link rich, making browsing really easy.”


Majestic Wine ecommerce director Richard Weaver “As well as being a comprehensive and competitive retail proposition with an easy to navigate website, Kiddicare has also done a great job of tapping the social commerce and community potential of their demographic.”


The White Stuff chief executive Sally Bailey “This is a fundraising platform for creative projects, whereby you pledge money to help some great initiatives and get perks or gifts in return. It’s a fun and engaging way to give money to help fund a wide range of creative projects.”


IMRG “This website provides the opportunity to find a vast range of interesting products in one location.”


Steve Borges, co-founder at ecommerce consultancy Biglight “The site combines great product presentation (including extensive use of video) with amazing service and genuine customer reviews. Its proposition extends far beyond the site itself, with thousands of videos on YouTube and clever use of social media to deepen customer engagement. Check out its 10 core values for a bit of inspiration.”


Former Debenhams and Mitchells & Butlers chairman John Lovering “I love the product, the site is simple to use, and the customer service is extremely good”


Miniwardrobe.com founder Caroline Kendal “This is a brilliant site - you can buy everything you need for a kid’s party. It’s competitively priced and has all the latest themes. I can normally buy everything I need for a party in under five minutes.”


Isabella Oliver founder Baukjen de Swaan Arons “There are many reasons why I keep coming back to this site. It has a great range of products, which at the end of the day is what it’s all about. But I like the photography, it has strong editorial content such as their online magazine and look book, and the navigation is very easy. Finally, I’ve always received great service. It ticks all the boxes for me.”


Oliver Bonas founder Oliver Tress “This bedroom furniture retailer is brilliantly executed in every respect and is a lesson in online-only retailing. It’s a great concept that considers every detail.”


eDigitalResearch director Derek Eccleston “Although still a beta site in the UK, the Amazon-owned website Javari has twice topped our eRetail Benchmark study in the last year. The product information, along with the number and range of images available on the site, brings the product to life and the fact that it also has free delivery, free returns and a price-match guarantee is giving consumers confidence to buy from this website.”