Friday, 11 February 2011

Compare and contrast: Best Buy

Best Buy UK’s troubles have been well documented in the last few weeks, with a slew of management departures hitting the business. The UK store opening programme has also apparently reached a standstill and losses for the British side of the business are expected to reach £55 million this year, compared with a previously anticipated loss of no more than £45 million. So why hasn’t Best Buy’s low-cost-great-service USP translated well from the US to our shores? Perhaps a closer look at the retailer’s UK and US websites could shed some light.

First impressions
On entering the US site, (above), I was immediately asked whether I was a Spanish speaker or whether I wanted to continue using the site in English. The message was bold and clear, instead of being hidden on the home page where a non-English speaker may struggle to find it. This gets a tick from me in terms of usability. On the UK site, (below), I was greeted with a survey request: “Please could you spare a few minutes to give us your views on the Best Buy website? If so, please click on the 'Yes please' button below and the survey will open up in a new window for you to complete at the end of your visit.” In the interests of research, I clicked to take part—more on this later.

The home page
The first thing I noticed on the UK site is the horizontal category selector featuring 12 different sections. In contrast, the US site has only four. The categories on the US site have drop-down menus for subcategories, then a product list. For example: Products > TV & Video > Home Theater Systems. To find the same products on the UK site, the journey takes the user from the home-page tab TV& Home Cinema > Home Cinema Systems & Separates. In theory, fewer steps to find product would make the UK site more user friendly. But there’s an argument for both approaches: The US site narrows down the choices at the home page—the user only has four options and is less likely to get “lost” at this stage. The UK page, on the other hand, has lots of choice on the home page, but eliminates one step of the drop-down menu system—a sometimes tricky element, especially when using a laptop.

Category pages
Landing in the home theatre section on both the UK and US Best Buy websites, I was once again shown very different screens. The UK site has a lot more going on: one main image at the centre of the page and below it, 11 more product photos. Compare this with the US website (below): one main image that further breaks the category down into All-in-One Home Theater Systems, Speaker Systems, and Sound Bars. So if Best Buy in the States doesn’t devote most of the page to product, what does it use the space for?

Immediately below the main image are two boxes that take the user to an audio shopping assistant. Clicking through to the box on the right helps customers get the most from their digital music device, such as an iPod. The box on the left clicks through to a page featuring a photo of a home setting that guides the user through the different applications of home theatre systems. For example, help on picking the best system for outdoor use, or creating “multiroom audio”, which Best Buy helpfully tells me means playing music from your computer or system into other rooms of the house. This tactic works to impart Best Buy’s vast knowledge and encourage customer loyalty. By providing so much information and advice, Best Buy becomes the go-to place to find out about what’s new in the audiovisual marketplace. And there’s more—further down on the page is a link to a customer forum and a link to the Best Buy Community.

The UK website (above) also links to a forum from the left-hand side of the page, but the emphasis is less on advice and more on the sale. Instead of the audio shopping assistant, UK customers are presented with calls to action to buy a “web exclusive” or that “our online only range offers great value—click here”. Apart from the forum, the only other buyer’s guide comes in the form of an interactive video guide to buying the right TV. Again though, the onus is on “buying” rather than “evaluating”. On the plus side, I liked that the video presenter had a British accent. It demonstrates that this content is specifically for a British audience rather than a rehashed American production. The production values are great and the video does well to guide the user through the different choices he has when it comes to selecting a new television. This is a commercial operation after all, so I can’t really fault Best Buy for driving the customer towards a sale.

The product page and basket
I selected a system and added it to my basket—much easier to do on the UK site. I picked something straight from the category landing page. The US site required me to go to another page where I could compare systems. I picked a similar product and noticed the price—everything really is so much cheaper in America. In the UK, Best Buy’s prices are probably comparable with the current offerings of Comet and Currys. Both sites feature a very detailed product page, though the US site features more white space. In the UK, the product is the hero, with 366 words devoted to describing it. The product page on the UK site (below) is far more comprehensive with tabs for the customer forum, a “learning resources” tab, accessories and specs.

Now, here’s an anomaly: the US product page (below) has no product specs. I am all for customer reviews describing the user experience, but I would also think that how many HDMi ports, or USB ports the system has is important information. Can Best Buy really rely on its users to pass on enough product information? It seems a bit cavalier to me.

When I clicked to add the two items to their respective baskets, the pages were quite similar. On the UK site, customers can see the order total including delivery, and a reminder to purchase related accessories. The US site goes one better by estimating a shipping time, and displaying payment options at this stage and I could complete the transaction as a guest—no login required. It is here that the US site asked for my opinion, by displaying a popup for an exit survey.

The survey said…
I navigated away from the two websites to answer the customer survey on the UK site. It started off well, with copy informing me that the survey was short and would only take a few moments. It asked how likely I was to recommend Best Buy to friends, what I would like improved and which of the following had an influence on my decision to visit the Best Buy website today. A further three screens followed asking for various bits of information, but when it asked me “Based on your experience with the Best Buy website, how much do you agree or disagree with the following statements about the website? Please use a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 means strongly disagree and 5 means strongly agree. If a statement is not applicable to you, or you don't know how you would rate it, please leave it blank,” I gave up. I felt there were too many choices, who has the time or inclination to fill all this in? And it wasn’t over yet, six more screens followed, but I left the answers blank.

Overall, each website has its good and bad points. I like the product information on the British site, but I like the hand-holding the American site offers. The site clearly works well for the US audience, but somewhere it is not connecting with a UK customer base. In the US, the business has a strong USP, whereas it’s a relative newcomer here. So while it learns more about our customs, maybe a more concise survey would get a better response.--MT

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