Monday, 17 September 2012

Compare and contrast: QVC

Say QVC and I bet most people will immediately associate it with TV shopping. However, the company now makes a significant percentage of its turnover from its online operations around the world.  It’s estimated that in terms of sales, QVC is the eighth largest online retailer in the US.

Active in the UK since 1993, QVC UK now broadcasts 24 hours a day, 365 days a year with 17 hours of live programming each day. To complement its website and TV shopping offering, QVC launched a mobile app for the iPhone and more recently for Android devices. In 2011, QVC UK achieved revenues of £390.9 million, while US sales hit $5.4 billion for the year (approximately £3.3 billion), with online accounting for 40 percent of QVC's US turnover.
QVC US homepage
The first thing that hit me when I landed on the US website (above) was how much bigger the site is. I don’t mean figuratively, in that it has more product on display, the site is visually bigger. Viewed on a large monitor (1680x1050) the main image takes a huge chunk of the screen’s real estate. In addition, the homepage features a sidebar on the right-hand side displaying items recently promoted on air.

QVC UK homepage
In contrast, the UK site (above) is centralised and the main banner appears to be no more than 760 pixels wide, compared to the US where the banner scales up to a width of approximately 920 pixels. Another reason the US site appears bigger is that each item in the top navigation is allowed more space. There are nine categories along the top, compared with 10 in the UK. They are: Fashion, Shoes & Handbags, Jewelry, Beauty, Kitchen & Food, For the Home, Electronics, Clearance, More. The UK site adds a tab for the homepage (Home) alongside Brands, Beauty, Fashion, Shoes & Handbags, Jewellery, Home & Leisure, Electricals, Garden & DIY, Clearance.

The US site doesn’t have a section specifically for brands, instead it includes a “shop by brand” option within a flyout menu from the main navigation. When you compare the two approaches, the US method seems the most user-friendly. A user can hover over the product category, such as Electronics, then select to narrow the choices to Dell or Canon, for example. No flyout menu on the UK site, users have to click on the Brands tab to be taken to an A to Z of some 400 brands. A click on a particular brand name takes users to a page featuring all the products sold by QVC of that brand regardless of product category.  Switching to a flyout menu on the homepage of the UK site would render the Brands tab redundant; but before QVC does that it has to make its navigation more intuitive.

I like my web experiences like I like my coffee—robust but smooth
Using the brands tab I found that QVC UK sells Illy coffee and coffee makers. But try to find them without using the search bar or the brands tab and the task is far more complicated than it should be. My first choice was clicking on the Electricals tab on the homepage. The Electicals landing page gave nothing away, so I clicked on Household Electricals, hoping to find coffee makers in the list. This switched me away from Electricals to the Home & Leisure section, but an image on the right titled Kitchen Appliances looked promising so I clicked. I was presented with one page of results, which featured a Cuisinart coffee maker, but no mention of the Illy machine I had spotted just moments ago. I clicked to go back to the category landing page to take a closer look and see whether coffee makers had their own subheading—nope.

Home and Leisure category

Returning to the main Home & Leisure category page, my next two logical options were narrowing down my search to Kitchen or to Food. I chose Kitchen from where I could filter to Juicers & Drink Makers (no coffee makers here) or Kitchen Electricals (now experiencing a touch a of déjà vu). Bingo! The Illy Coffee maker. Happily, the product page has an effective cross-sell mechanism built in as it recommended I buy the coffee refills at the same time. I’d hazard a guess that QVC could really beef up sales of its coffee makers by having the department easier to find. Surely by calling the department Kitchen Electricals, it would have made sense to include it within the Electricals section as well?
Illy Product Page
To compare the experience, I shopped for a coffee maker on the US site. No Illy brand, so I selected Delonghi. I hovered over Kitchen & Food first and selected the fifth option, Kitchen Electricals. From here, the comprehensive left-hand navigation let me filter my choice to Coffee & Tea Makers. Now in my chosen subcategory, I could either browse all, filter down to Espresso Makers or simply click on the brand name from the left-hand navigation bar. Even more impressive is that the US website lets me compare the different items in the selection against one another, though sadly when side by side, I can’t see each item’s specs. What it does do is create a reference point to come back to rather than being presented all the options again.

Price comparison on the US website
 Considering the two websites represent the same brand, they are miles apart in terms of usability and in terms of visual appeal. The US site instantly strikes me as a far more modern website. Take the presentation of Today’s Special Value item, for example. The UK site promotes the Oreck XL Lightweight Vacuum Cleaner (below left), while the US (below right) goes for the Voice Guided Pressure Cooker w/Recipe Book. Although both pages contain similar information, including cross-sells and videos, the US site is far more compelling: it’s more colourful, the calls to action are stronger and although only slightly larger, the price and saving have more impact on the American site. Perhaps it’s the inclusion of the Speed Buy button?

For another example, see how the US site presents the Clarks brand. To see all Clarks shoes on the UK site, users need to either search for the brand name, user the Brands tab or click on the Shoes & Handbags category. From here, a small box image links to the Clarks subcategory. When users reach the Clarks section there is no banner image greeting them, we’re straight into a list of shoes and the only option to filter results is by price bracket.

Shop for Clarks shoes in the UK
Contrast that with the US. From the flyout, users can select Clarks and be taken to a Clarks landing page, complete with a clickable main image and various filters from price through to style and colour. Perhaps most importantly, as it is QVC after all, the US site lets users view videos of each item. The UK doesn’t.
Shop for Clarks shoes US

All told, the US website is far more advanced than its UK counterpart, which leads to a disparate brand experience. A quick look at the homepages of the QVC Germany and QVC Italy websites (below) indicates that they have much more in common with the US parent. With its international sisters well ahead of it aesthetically, the UK site is clearly overdue its makeover. --MT

QVC GermanyQVC Italy

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