Thursday, 7 January 2010

Compare and contrast: Learning Resources

Though relatively small, educational-toys cataloguer Learning Resources was one of the first US mailers to expand into the UK, first targeting British teachers in 1994. More than 15 years on, the company now targets parents as well as instructors on both sides of the Atlantic. When it comes to ecommerce, though, the UK website appears to suffer from a steeper learning curve than the US one.

In some ways, the UK website ( resembles the US website of several years ago. Stateside marketers still believe that the British marketplace is several years behind their own. I’m not about to argue whether such remains the case, but I will say that I see no reason for the British site to have been designed to fit such a narrow width (see above), so that the right-hand third of the screen is blank.

The typography of the UK site is dated as well, with display copy appearing in an intentionally uneven serif font that’s no doubt meant to suggest a sense of whimsy and that, if I recall correctly, used to be prominent in the print catalogue. What works in one medium, however, doesn’t always work in another, and what worked five years ago doesn’t necessarily work now.

The US site ( looks much more up-to-date (and not just because the logo in the top left corner is adorned with a blanket of snow!). The main image is huge (see below), and there’s a navigation bar across the top, with separate tabs for parents and teachers. The home page of the UK site has two distinct images to direct you to the appropriate section. What’s more, its navigation bar is a small box in the right-hand column.

The British site does enable visitors to download free sample pages and the table of contents from several dozen of its books. Surprisingly the US site doesn’t seem to offer this feature, which I’d imagine really helps convert sales. Then again, the US site has two distinct Resource Centers, one for educators and one for parents, which include free downloadable activity sheets; parenting and teaching articles; and for educators, the ability to search the product database to see which items correlate to the various state and national teaching standards. Given that each US state has its own standards, that’s impressive enough; it also reaches out to Canadian teachers by offering the same feature for the various provincial standards.

In addition, the US site includes videos demonstrating how to use some of its products. I had problems accessing several of these demos, however, which was a shame. I was really curious to watch the video for the Teaching Cash Register, which I’d given my daughter as a gift back when she was four or so. She loved it, but unfortunately it didn’t help her learn how many dimes make up a dollar or how many nickels a quarter. Perhaps the video would have showed me what I did wrong. (Though I suspect that encouraging her to pretend the cash register was a typewriter or a piano didn't help.)

Enough of my reminiscing; let’s go shopping. The US site enables you to navigate by subject, product category, theme (such as animals, human, and multicultural diversity), or brand. UK shoppers don’t have the theme, brand, or category options, but they can drill down by age and by price as well as by subject. Being able to narrow products by age group seems particularly useful for this niche; I can’t think of a reason for the US site not to allow it.

The product pages on the US site (above) include the breadcrumb trail, which I always find helpful. The UK site lacks this navigational aid, but I’ll try not to hold that against it. The UK site also lacks customer reviews—for shame!—though the product copy gives prominent play to any industry awards or plaudits the particular items have won.

When it comes to overall product page presentation, the US site wins hands down. The copy is bullet-pointed for easier readability, the product image is fairly large, multiple images are available, and included are photos of recently viewed products and other products “you may also like”. There are customer reviews, a “tell a friend” button, and the ability to add an item to a wish list.

On the UK site, you’ve got one rather small image (below), several dense-looking blocks of copy, and below the fold in many cases, “related products you may be interesting in browsing”. I appreciate that Brits tend to be more genteel than Yanks (or are at least perceived that way), but “related products you may be interested in browsing”? Just come on out and say “Other products you may like”, for goodness’ sake; you won’t offend anyone, honest.

Could a fear of offending Brits by being too pushy be why the UK site doesn’t ask for visitors’ email addresses? One person who’s no doubt offended by that is internet guru Amy Africa, who insists that if a website does nothing else, it must get the email address of its visitors, so that it can continue to market to them. This reticence on the part of the UK site, along with its reluctance to adopt features such as multiple images and customer reviews that are becoming standard (if they’re not already) on both sides of the Atlantic, shows that Learning Resources’ British team have much to learn from their Stateside counterparts.—SC

No comments:

Post a Comment