User Experience Review - House of Fraser
10th May 2010
This article was published on September 2009 on Internet Retailing website
With 62 UK and Ireland locations, The House of Fraser department group is one of the best-known retailers both on the high street and also online. The high quality and extensive product range has made it a favourite with consumers for many years. Given the tough economic climate what is House of Fraser doing online to differentiate themselves from the crowd?
Its website is successful in not only providing similar access to a massive range of products and brands but there are also a number of features to assist with the sales process. Whilst this is a commendable approach to helping the site visitor, how useful and usable are these tools?
On the homepage an automated carousel feature follows the current trend for ecommerce websites but the implementation is relatively unclear. It can be overlooked, as there are no carousel style controls as well as no controls to affect the active image. Including arrows left and right would have conveyed the carousel message better, providing access to the other current promotions.
On a positive note the brands in the main image and not just for display purposes but are individually clickable providing a direct route to product. Incidentally, the use of ‘home’ to denote ‘homeware’ is a little confusing!
Despite the vast product range and the multiple methods of promotion the site does not appear cluttered, which is not an easy task to achieve. The roll over navigation provides direct access to a variety of sections. Menus are well structured by products, highlights, features, sales and brand. Cross-linking throughout helps to display the products that perhaps the site visitor was not initially considering. The navigation style also provides the facility to narrow searches in a straightforward (multi-faceted) manner. Providing both holistic and focused approaches to product location is a well understood and effective method for e-commerce websites.
House of Fraser offers multiple views of certain items to avoid any possible disappointment on receipt of a product. For example, the view inside a ‘hobo’ bag is a novel approach, showing both the lining and stitching. However, this is randomly implemented across the site. This is also true of the option to see how the bag looks on a human. Whilst this is a relatively novel solution, as it isn’t a consistent resource, it is unlikely to increase sales. Where possible House of Fraser has provided standard features like multiple colour views. But using broken lines to denote that a product is not available in a size and colour combination takes a little time to understand given the lack of convention.
Full ‘zoom’ with high resolution images can be helpful. However, on full zoom navigational controls and supporting text can be lost through lack of contrast against the zoomed image. The zoom in and out controls are also very small and a reset option denoted by an ‘X’ is an approach not often encountered. The size of the controls are likely to impact both their accessibility and clarity within the page context. The drag option, however, is very helpful and despite the implementation the solution, overall, is potentially very good.
Similar to Amazon the ‘recently viewed’ feature is a helpful navigational aid that creates a ‘my products’ style section. Combining this with a ‘related products’ and ‘more from this brand’ section helps to promote as wide a range of products as possible whilst assisting the user with their journey through the site. Taking this a stage further and providing an ‘Add to My Favourites’ list for future reference would have added an additional degree of personalisation to the experience but this does not appear to be available in a ‘guest’ account. In addition, this list is limited to just nine products and often inexplicably reduces through the browsing experience. Had a carousel approach been implemented similar to that on the homepage, a larger list could have been maintained.
Given the economic climate House of Fraser are doing all they can to promote their products in helpful and novel ways. Many of the products are top of the range and the tools being put in place help to compliment them. Further consideration to some of the usability and consistency issues will assist the site visitors and provide solutions that will help House of Fraser stand out from the crowd.
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This article was written by Mark Westwater. Mark is a Senior Usability Consultant User Vision, a usability and accessibility consultantcy that helps clients gain a competitive advantage through improved ease of use.