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Minimising the risks of a website relaunch: lessons from M&S

By The Saint

This week M&S announced a decline in online sales since the launch of their new website with purchases down 8.1% in the latest quarter (source: BBC). It’s been suggested that this decline is all down to the site's new design and the poor user experience it delivers - namely requiring users to re-register as a customer and difficulties with the complex navigation system.

So what are the big changes? One of the key improvements is that they are now optimising the site for multiple devices, with a responsive design for desktop and tablet and a dedicated mobile site. All good so far.

Large, beautiful images and a new editorial approach help to inspire customers and sell the products, thus engaging customers in a positive and emotional way – a technique that is proven to lead to better conversion rates.

Then there’s the implementation of the mega navigation system – an interface that allows customers to delve deeper into the site and access products quickly and easily. This is a trend that has become hugely popular among online retailers, with the likes of John Lewis, House of Fraser and Selfridges already using this method.

So with the redesign seemingly offering an improved experience that rivals the competition, what has gone so wrong and resulted in a decline in sales?

With any new launch there is inevitably a period of adjustment as users adapt to the new interface. But it’s not just the redesign that has caused frustrations amongst M&S customers, but also how it’s been implemented. Rather than making gradual adjustments over time and easing their customers into a new experience, they’ve just hit the switch from old to new, with no time to adjust. Not only this, but it seems at the same time, they’ve also implemented a new technological platform to deliver these improvements, which has resulted in customers having to re-register accounts. Double whammy.

It all comes down to familiarity and trust, M&S customers had been familiar with the website for years- they knew and understood how it worked and, most importantly, they trusted it. Then one day, they could no longer access their accounts. Access denied. It doesn’t look like it used to and it doesn’t even remember them. For a user, this is extremely frustrating, they are no longer confident in using the site and they have lost faith in it.

“Re-designing and re-platforming are both huge undertakings. Re-designing takes time, effort and craft. Re-platforming requires changes to business processes and infrastructure. Doing both at the same time is a huge undertaking. Doing both doubles the complexity, the time and the budget but mostly it doubles the risk.” – Joe Leech (Source: CX Blog)

So with this in mind, here are a few tips to minimize the risk of a re-launch:

  1. Re-platform and re-design separately. Joe Leech advises you re-platform first, so that you understand what works first.
  2. Migrate customer details over to the new platform, so that they don’t have to re-register and you don’t risk losing them.
  3. Carry out thorough user research and then conduct regular testing throughout the design and development stages – to validate your proposed changes.
  4. Support your customers throughout the transition period. Email campaigns, social media and video are just some of the tools that can be used to keep customers informed of any changes and help guide them through the process.

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