Size means little when it comes to the performance of retailers’ websites because the inaugural testing of the ‘Retail 500’ of top UK retailers for Retail Week found some of the smaller merchants performed strongly while many of the larger players delivered a weak performance.

Among the best performers are big well-known names like DFS, Bally Group and Shop Direct Group, who sit alongside smaller merchants like Vivi, Fishpools and Rayner & Keeler.

And down among the worst performers are big guns like Argos, Waterstone’s and Lloydspharmacy, who are cheek by jowl with smaller players such as JH Leeke & Son and Furniture123.

High levels of website performance are also not restricted to retailers at the luxury end of the market, as the testing to the 500 sites by specialist website-testing company Sitemorse found that the likes of value operators Farmfoods and Lidl are in the top 20 alongside upmarket names like Asprey and Burberry.

Sitemorse used its automated testing of the first 125 pages of each retailer’s sites to generate a ranked table based on checks to compliance, measurement of performance and the testing of the function of each of the websites.

It regards a score of seven out of 10 as the level that retailers should aim for so the average performance across the Retail 500 was pretty poor as only 30 achieved such a score. However, there are quite a few just below this level as the threshold for placement in the top 50 performers was 6.4.

In this top 10 per cent batch there are a surprising number of value-focused retailers alongside Farmfoods and Lidl. They include Aldi, QS Group, 99p Stores and Poundland, which highlights how it should not only be the preserve of glossy upmarket retailers to provide a high performing website that does not suffer from broken links, slow page downloads and poor accessibility for visually impaired people.

These retailers do not typically provide transactional sites, which also shows that irrespective of whether the website is used to sell goods it should still give the customer a good online experience. This is not happening with those retailers in the bottom 10 per cent batch where scores range from 2.3 for catalogue company Marshall Ward to a mere 0.74 for bottom-placed Staples (UK).

Such scores are unlikely to be conveying a good brand image to customers and the surprising thing is that among these bottom 50 poor performers are some merchants that pride themselves on their high quality image and exemplary levels of customer service. The likes of Disney Store, Selfridges, Heals and Conran Shop Holdings might be delivering the goods in-store but they are not doing it online. They are letting themselves and their customers down.

Retailers were excluded from the testing if they used assistive technology such as JavaScript, which breaks the general “rules of accessibility” of internet sites, according to Sitemorse.

It will be running the Retail 500 test again next quarter when the changes in the fortunes of the UK’s top retailers can be analysed against this inaugural testing.

Sitemorse Retail 500