Monday, 6 June 2011

Compare and contrast--Clarks

In the US, Clarks shoes are available to buy through Clarks’ stores, concessions and online. It must be doing something right as according to published reports, pretax profits at the Somerset-based shoe retailer grew by 28 percent to £109 million ($178 million) in 2010, with revenues up 9.2 percent to £1.28 billion ($2.10 billion). The growth is said to be driven by Clarks’ overseas business, particularly North America, where sales increased 19 percent, compared with just 1 percent in the UK and Ireland. So what makes it so successful stateside?

The home pages
A trend I’ve noticed writing compare and contrast blog posts is that the home pages of the US websites we’ve looked at tend to be less crowded than UK home pages—the rule applies here too. The UK Clarks home page (below) has one large central image featuring eight pairs of shoes. To the right of the image are more graphics—promoting £15 off selected lines, highlighting Clarks’ boutique range, announcing a saving of £25 on selected men’s ranges, and two smaller boxes calling out kids’ canvas-style shoes.

The UK Clarks home page

Below the main image are three graphics that click through to men’s, women’s and children’s styles. Below those is one more banner announcing Clarks as an official partner of Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life event. And there’s even more—at the very bottom of the page are text links to the various departments and help pages. Contrast this with the US home page (below). It features a large central image of two people standing on a boat, the UK site features only shoes and feet on the home page. Below the main image is a banner for flip-flops, and below that are text links—but far fewer than on the UK site.

Clarks USA home page

Do British consumers prefer a busier home page? I’d imagine plenty of A/B testing takes place to get this crucial space right, so I can only assume that we do. A sparser page may look tidier, but the British home page provides more to click on, aiding navigation and encouraging users to take particular paths through the site.

Out of curiosity, I took a look at Clarks’ French and German websites too. The German home page was very similar to the UK home, with an almost identical layout and imagery. The French site also bore more of a similarity to the British home page, than the US one, though the main image differed slightly in layout. In total Clarks has 28 websites, including local-language sites for China, Greece and Russia, each slightly different from the other.

But coming back to the USA and UK websites, both feature some sort of delivery offer on the home page. The UK website promotes free delivery and free returns, while the US site promises “flat fee shipping & free returns”. Each provides a link to a delivery details page. Here the UK site trumps its US sister; the copy is broken up into coloured boxes with each option clearly spelled out, from free delivery to Saturday delivery to a collect-in-store service. The US site looks more formal, in plain black text with a delivery options table. It is very thorough though and states plainly what Clarks can and can’t do when it comes to delivery.
A final point about the home page, visitors to the US Clarks site can also shop the “Bostonian”, a brand of men’s shoes, via a tab on the home page. No such tab exists on the UK site. In fact, type Bostonian into the site search on the British site and you’ll reach a “no results” page.

Let’s go shopping
Moving further into the site, there are several ways a potential customer can find product. Visitors can use the site search function, click on the main image, select a department from the top navigation bar, use a drop-down menu from the main nav bar, or, in the case of the British site, choose one of the boxes on the right.

Choosing from the drop-down menu, there were many more options on the UK site. The women’s menu, for example, has 32 links. Visitors can choose from 16 product types—such as sandals, clogs, handbags—and from 16 “features”—including teens, sports, nautical styles. In contrast, the US women’s menu has only eight links.

I clicked on Sandals and was taken to two very different pages. On the UK site, I was shown 25 styles by default, but I could choose to have up to 100 products displayed and sort them by price ascending, price descending, and alphabetically, but not by brand. The left-hand nav bar allowed me to refine my search further, by size, colour and price, for example. The US site uses a horizontal bar for refinement options as well as a left-hand nav bar to shop by collection or brand, or select a different type of shoe.

UK product page

I had a good look around the site, but didn’t find two styles the same in order to compare the product pages, so I chose to compare two items of the same brand. Both websites carry the charity-supporting Soul of Africa collection. And both sites allow the visitor to “quick view” an item selected without navigating away from the page. A handy touch if the shopper wants to compare different styles without clicking back and forward too often.  Moving to the actual product page, the US site has a much bigger image of the product, with a very good zoom function. The zoom on the UK site takes longer to load, but seems to get closer to the product. Both sites also have cross-selling features and social-media bookmarking links, but unlike many of its shoe-selling competitors, there are no user reviews on the US site.

US product page

I added the item to my basket and headed for the checkout. Here, again, the British site introduced more colour to guide the user through the process. There was also a big banner informing me that Clarks now accepts Paypal, allaying any security fears I may have about entering my credit-card details. The US website was more function, less colour, but allowed me to checkout as a guest. The UK site required me to enter my email address at checkout so that it could confirm my order. Both sites get top marks for including a clear breadcrumb trail of how far I’d come along the checkout process and how many more steps remained.

All in all, the Clarks websites are very robust and user-friendly. There are obvious differences between the UK and US sites, but that does not necessarily make one better than the other. I do question Clarks’ decision not to include product reviews on the American site, though.  The Clarks USA website is a million miles away from American sites Zappos or eBags, with their busy home pages and feature-packed product pages. But perhaps that’s the whole point and the secret of its appeal.--MT

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