User Experience Review - Sainsbury's online shopping

3rd March 2011

 This article was published in September 2010 Internet RetailingLink opens in a new window

Doing your weekly grocery shop from the comfort of your sofa is becoming increasingly attractive to many consumers and Sainsbury’s is one of the supermarket giants that offer this service to their customers.  Back in June Sainsbury's reported a 20 per cent growth in their online grocery sales for the first quarter of 2010, supposedly processing around 120,000 weekly online orders during this period.  This announcement came off the back of a major website redesign in 2009, which aimed at simplifying the online processes and enhancing the overall user experience.  But in the face of tough competition from the likes of, has the grocery giant succeeded in its aim of providing its customers with straightforward online grocery shopping?  My task was to buy a litre of semi-skimmed milk.

online shopping registration formAs a new customer to Sainsbury’s online, I had to register.  Registering for Sainsbury’s online is a relatively painless process.  All that is required is your name, e-mail address and a password, which is straightforward when compared to some competitors who require address and/or payment details before starting your shop.  Of course, the information is required eventually, but allowing this more ‘passive’ registration enables the customer to get shopping more quickly, which in turn helps to reduce the rates of abandoned registrations.

Once registered, you are directed back to the Sainsbury’s home page, which provides access to products across their extended range, from food & drink, through gardening products and HD televisions, to pet insurance.  Having the product diversity is great, but for a customer coming on to do their weekly shop, the choice (despite being well categorised) can be both bewildering and distracting.  However, the food & drink menu provides a clear link to “Buy Groceries”.  Prior to accessing the groceries section, a postcode check is required to ensure that you reside in a delivery area. If you are not then you are given the option to be notified if/when delivery will be offered.

Postcode check tool 







It may have been useful at this stage to indicate to the customer where their nearest store is, so rather than a straightforward rejection, the customer could at least be given the option to travel to a store.  For example, my address falls outside of the delivery zone but I know there are several stores less than 30 minutes drive from my house.  Once a valid postcode (my office) is provided, you are directed to the groceries homepage.

The groceries homepage presented you with six calls-to-action in the immediate area, on top of the two-tier main-menu and several other options in periphery sections.  This can create confusion as to the best place to start:  Book a delivery slot?  Start browsing the shelves?  Look at the various special offers?  Most people are likely to be happy booking a delivery slot at the “check-out” stage, though access to this function is useful for those who need to ensure a specific slot is available prior to shopping.

Grocery homepageThis option could be less dominant on the page though.  The “book delivery” option is also confused by the sub-title “to see our latest product offers”, which seems to have little to do with booking a delivery slot.  The “start saving now” link is also a little ambiguous; is this a link to special offers or simply to start shopping?  A clear and unambiguous call-to-action would be of great benefit to customers, particularly first-time buyerswho may need more direction.

The Sainsbury’s site allows you to shop in a number of ways.  You can search for a product by name, or browse categories that roughly represent the aisles in a typical store. A search for “milk” brings back a heartburn-inducing 148 different options!  Product search tool



However, sub-categories help me to see categories (again, using the “aisle” metaphor), special offers and recipes connected with my milk.

Another option is to browse for the product you need.  Although this is reasonably intuitive, the sub-menus (or “shelves”) have little visual differentiation from the main menus (or “aisles”) and they are all top-aligned, resulting in a rather disjointed and hesitant browsing experience.

Grocery browser










Delivery optionWith my milk in my trolley I make for the check-out and face the more detailed information fields that I avoided during registration.My delivery and billing addresses are taken (with the postcode finder taking most of the strain) along with contact details and a loyalty card number.  Interestingly the delivery slot is not as prominent a part of the checkout process as I would have expected and the prompt is rather subtle. The delivery slot screen offers clear access to dates/times and unavailable slots are clearly marked.  However, the repetition of the van icon, which does not appear to serve any specific purpose, generates unnecessary clutter that detracts attention from the delivery-costs, which are the important pieces of information. 

Overall, Sainsbury’s offers a relatively intuitive shopping experience.  Some nice ‘value-added’ features include viewing recipes (and automatically adding the ingredients to your basket), the ability to add forgotten items to your order after check-out and the promise of a favourite items list, “My usuals”, on my next shop.  However, a clearer process with improved navigation and labelling would help improve the overall experience – much like my local supermarket!

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This article was written by Stephen Denning . Stephen is a Senior Usability Consultant at User Vision, a usability and accessibility consultancy that helps clients gain a competitve advantage through improved ease of use. 


Just wanted to reiterate my thanks for a very enlightening and detail packed course. Both myself and my colleague came away with many new perspectives, and confirmations of what we felt was right for UI structures.  As a result we will be revising a key money making part to our site based on the learnings.

Multimedia Consultant, Training Delegate.