Kicking off the autumn season of Drapers’ Hit or Miss shopping series, we decided to focus on the ever-growing world of digital and set out to put online retail to the test.
From the leading luxury players to fast fashion giants and emerging digital names, the Drapers secret shopper browsed the websites of 20 different retailers, scoring them with consideration to visual appeal, usability, quality of content and technology extras, as well as ease of ordering.
The top performers married high-quality content, consumer focus and smart technologies to enhance usability, and it became apparent that luxury stock is no guarantee of a slick ecommerce experience.
Certain online players excelled through a focus on the details, be it the illustrations on the 24 Sèvres site, Trouva’s handwritten thank you note, or Asos’s smart sizing. The fusion of fun and functionality proved key to providing an online shopping experience that was enjoyable, engaging and easy.
Across the spectrum, payment and delivery processes were impressively simple. Many retailers have adopted similar, functional practices, and none stood out for its innovative approach. Standard delivery time was three to five days but some items were delivered the day after the order – others took the full five days. Delivery costs varied a great deal – from 99p to £10. There was the option for next-day delivery at every retailer tested – many fast fashion retailers were offering discounts on the service. Some luxury brands offered same-day delivery, and companies such as Net-a-Porter and Amazon are already set to launch “try while we wait” services.
Content, on the other hand, varied hugely. The luxury websites’ content is increasingly comparable to the output of established glossy consumer fashion magazines, and has a growing focus on video promotions. However, the proliferation of fast fashion sites means many have adopted a similar tone across their marketing and brand imagery. Missguided leads the way with its youthful messaging, but others are hot on its heels, and the battle to differentiate brand identity and stand out from the growing crowd appears to be getting tougher.
From digital content and site usability to checkout process and delivery, read on to find out which online specialist came out on top.
Unless otherwise stated, Drapers ordered one low-priced item, and opted for standard delivery.
- 24 Sèvres 9.5/10
- Asos 9/10
- The Idle Man 9/10
- Mr Porter 9/10
- Missguided 8.5/10
- Finery London 8/10
- Net-a-Porter 8/10
- Boohoo 7.5/10
- Farfetch 7.5/10
- PrettyLittleThing 7/10
- Trouva 7/10
- Zalando 7/10
- In The Style 6.5/10
- MyTheresa 6.5/10
- Nasty Gal 6/10
- Yoox 6/10
- Missy Empire 5.5/10
- Public Desire 5/10
- Very 5/10
- Amazon Fashion 4/10
24 sèvres capsule collection aalto x sami samaki
Provides the ultimate luxury experience, proving ecommerce is all about the detail
As the newest player from luxury conglomerate LVMH and the ecommerce accompaniment to Parisian department store Le Bon Marché, 24 Sèvres offers an exquisite online shopping experience. While the website navigation and layout initially appear to be fairly standard, the subtle attention to detail on the site sets it apart. The range is impressive and curated, showcasing the best and most desired high-fashion items, and happily it is not limited to LVMH-owned brands.
The visuals are high-quality and engaging. From the illustrated icons to the editorial content, each image is of glossy magazine standard, while the editorial video content is hypnotic, combining illustration with kaleidoscopic imagery. Product is shown on both mannequins and models. The ordering process is seamless and delivery is swift. When I open the box on arrival the packaging is a charming surprise – a personalised box, enclosing a miniature pop-up Eiffel Tower and thank you note.
Videos of the product would allow you to see how they move on the body – a feature available on sites such as Net-a-Porter, Asos and even Missguided. Some products are not available for delivery to the UK, and this is not clearly marked on the main display.
With its immense scope, smart site and unique content, Asos is something special
Asos immediately wins points for a homepage design that is distinct from its fast fashion competitors – it has a unique layout and more dynamic image selection. Its branding is confident and youthful, and it is the most obviously inclusive of the fast fashion brands – not just in terms of body shape, gender and ethnicity, but also in the array of different styling suggestions presented, from urban to “girlie”.
The offer is unparalleled. There is a vast array of own label sitting alongside brands from across the price and style spectrum. Boohoo and Missguided both sell on the site, alongside premium labels such as Ganni and Needle & Thread, both of which are also stocked by Net-a-Porter. With beauty and home accessories also on offer, Asos is well positioned to become a one-stop shop for young shoppers. The site is brimming with clever extras – a tool that recommends your correct size based on previous purchases, and a “buy the look” function that lets you automatically add co-ordinating items to your bag. Delivery is fast – my item arrives in two days – and free when your order exceeds £20. You can sign up for “free” next-day delivery for £9.95 per year.
With such an enormous offer, browsing Asos can feel overwhelming. Despite numerous options to refine and a suggestions from a helpful search bar, it is too easy to be baffled by the choices available if you are not looking for something very specific. Searching “pink dress”, for example, returns more than 2,000 results.
The Idle Man
Personal and considered, the Idle Man can play with the big boys
The Idle Man’s website oozes menswear cool. Prices start at just £7 for a basic vest and are generally mid-market – a £995 YMC leather jacket is the priciest item by a considerable amount. The browsing experience feels luxurious, and easily competes with sites such as Mr Porter on usability, but with a more personal tone. References to “the team” are dotted throughout.
Instead of using artificial intelligence (AI), The Idle Man offers suggestions from a team of in-store stylists, based on your answers to a questionnaire – this makes the experience feel more personal. That being said, there is no lack of clever tech on the site – a live chat help function, and the ability to see which sizes are in stock before clicking through to the item. There are also a few quirky additions, such as an Idle Man Soundcloud playlist. The ordering process is slick and simple, and the £3.99 standard delivery arrives without fuss two days after ordering.
While The Idle Man offers a premium experience in a slick, user-friendly site with useful styling features, the product packaging is very basic.
Fw17 campaign 1
Mr Porter has site quality and usability down to a tee, but the packaging is excessive
Like its sister site, Net-a-Porter, the Mr Porter experience is pleasingly luxurious. Editorial content covers not only styling tips, but topics such as “where to find the best coffee shops on the planet” and “how to be more productive”. Unlike Net-a-Porter, however, Mr Porter includes a copy of its printed magazine with my order, taking the idea and execution further than any other retailer tested.
A nice touch that increases the ease of browsing is the preview function on the “A-Z of designers”, which shows a brief summary of the brand highlighted and a couple of images – preventing needless clicking around. Mr Porter does not offer same-day delivery – Net-a-Porter does. However, the standard £5 delivery arrives less than 24 hours after the order is placed.
While my delivery is beautifully packaged, the size of box and amount of packaging is excessive to the point of baffling. One small pair of ankle socks arrives in a box larger than the average shoe box, crammed with tissue paper. Rather than luxurious, it feels unnecessary and wasteful.
Sh08 042 (large)
Laser-like targeting and a slick experience, but it does not do enough to stand out from the crowd
A lot about the Missguided site has become iconic, and with good reason. Its witty approach to content, bold images and quick, easy ordering services are a proven hit with consumers. Emoji-style icons for sizing and delivery details are playful and fun. Delivery and returns information is easier to access than on many sites, and free next-day delivery offers are offered on both my visits. Each item is shown on video, which is a surprising benefit given the low price points. The videos seem to give a true representation of the quality, and the “shop the look” feature allows me to pair items together for the ultimate hit of Missguided styling.
While the content is sharp, witty and pinpoint-targeted, it is not as innovative as the output from Asos, and is not unique in its brand identity – several competitors use near-identical approaches. Additionally, the use of smart tech is lower than at retailers marked higher: there is no styling function, or smart size guides.
Finery aw17 l1 0139
With an approach that borrows from the best, Finery shines
Finery borrows the best bits from across the ecommerce spectrum for its sophisticated site, reworking tried and tested techniques to create an engaging experience with compelling editorial content and quirky styling with an added personal touch. These include the “Fine Society” loyalty scheme for those spending more than £250 over six months, and the rolling display of #FineryFemales wearing the product in real life. The selection is much smaller than most, but nevertheless feels comprehensive and the site has a distinctive identity, thanks in part to the directional designs of Finery’s collection.
The curated offer is reinforced by a series of strong, sophisticated images, giving the site an editorial, creative feel. It sells a lifestyle rather than overtly pushing product. This is reinforced by the decision to collaborate with celebrities such as actress Vicky McClure, journalist Polly Vernon and radio DJ and cook Alice Levine, for a collection of “forever” pieces. The pricing is much more accessible than its premium counterparts, starting at £25 for a T-shirt. Tags on items reading “waiting list” and “limited edition” do a good job of interesting me, and the site is pleasant to browse.
The important top navigation of the site lacks some seemingly obvious categories, making it difficult to find certain items with ease. There is no tab for outerwear, but there is one for leather.
Almost perfect – sleek and chic – but filter options are ungainly
Net-a-Porter dominates the luxury ecommerce sector, and with good reason. The comprehensive editorial offer lends the homepage a chic, inspirational feel. The functionality is smooth, and while the product pages are relatively minimalist in design, this lets the fashion shine and gives a very clear impression of what to expect from the products in real life.
Product videos, a “how to wear it” section featuring styling suggestions and a “you may also like” bar feature products that are similar both in style and in price. Delivery is free on orders larger than £200, and the £5 standard delivery option arrives the next day in Net-a-Porter’s high-quality packaging. The site offers same-day delivery in London, which is a nice touch and still relatively rare. A live chat option offers help on orders, giving the illusion of a shop assistant being on hand.
The filter options are not as advanced as expected from a luxury player. When searching for an item I can filter by designer, colour and size – but while I can specify “clothing” I am unable to refine down to a specific item. When, for example, I search for Tory Burch, I have to scroll through all 51 items to pick out the dresses from within other options.
190417 aw17 kb 1563
Boohoo’s site is carefully crafted for the trend- and bargain-hunter, but could be more refined.
For the trend-hungry, deal-seeking consumer, the Boohoo homepage is a treasure. Visuals focus on the latest time-sensitive trends – from velvet to Halloween looks. A £1 next-day delivery countdown clock is eye-catching and tempting (my order arrives, as promised, the following morning), as is the offer of 30% off new-season looks. The content is precisely geared to an Instagram generation with its snappy taglines such as “scream queen” and “look lit”. The “quick-buy” and “show similar” options add speed, and a “back in stock” function builds interest. With such a large array of products, the site benefits from comprehensive filtering options – there are 13 different categories of dresses for those looking for something specific.
There are too many options on the womenswear top bar – 87 different tabs – and a screen full of suggestions such as Boohoo Brands, AW17 Trends, Get The Look and Latest Campaigns feels overwhelming. While the content on The Fix blog/magazine section is strong, it seems a little buried and could be better integrated into the site. The deals pop more than the clothes.
170622 bmb fw17 02 089 low
Captivating video content and easy experience, but shipping costs should be clearer
An impressive, captivating video dominates the Farfetch homepage, setting the tone for the high-quality content across the site. It encourages me to click around to different areas of the site to explore. The “fit predictor” tool is a handy way to get sizing recommendations based on items already owned. The size guide on the site is also exceedingly detailed. It is possible to set up notifications for new items from brands, which is handy for fashion-hungry customers. Despite all coming from different stores, the product imagery is nicely uniform. The item display is also user-friendly, allowing me to view more than one angle simultaneously.
There is no standard shipping cost on the site – shipping is only displayed once an item is added to the basket. While shipping is free over £100, when I order two items from two different boutiques, I have to pay twice for shipping. It costs £20 in total and almost doubles the price of my order.
Playful and experimental, but too reliant on a derivative formula
The PrettyLittleThing website is built with playfulness in mind, from the tongue-in-cheek imagery to the bold, low-priced product (dresses start at £8) and the #PLTSTYLE styling scrapbook. The use of GIFs is particularly striking, while the bold, brash and bright imagery is eye-catching, showcasing an amped-up version of the Instagram-friendly style its customers crave.
As with many of the fast fashion sites, there are frequent offers on next-day delivery, and returns are free. The product pages are comprehensive, and many showing item-specific measurements, videos and a good number of images. The buying process is swift and simple, and my parcel arrives the next day in a bright pink, unicorn-patterned bag.
Like Missguided, PrettyLittleThing has lost some of its initial impact and could do more to set itself apart from competitors in an increasingly crowded market. The “shop the look” and “you may also like” functions are less comprehensive than other retailers, and lack the snappy tone found on the homepage and social channels. Additionally, while there is a £1 next-day delivery offer at the time of ordering, standard “UK Saver” delivery costs £3.99, compared with just 99p at Missguided.
Ecommerce with heart and charm, but a couple of sticking points while browsing
Trouva successfully captures the charm of independent stores on its sites. With area guides and interviews, there is less of a sense of pushing product and more one of community. A “thank you” video after ordering is a nice touch, as is the handwritten note that arrives along with my order. The option to browse by boutique is a quirky approach, and means the site appeals to a broader spectrum of taste. The ordering process is simple and efficient, and the £1.95 standard delivery cost is much lower than other, similar sites.
While the editorial content is strong, some products are accompanied by just one image. Because the site features multiple boutiques, some items appear more than once when browsing, which can be confusing. Additionally, while one part of my order arrives within two days, the other, ordered at the same time, does not arrive until 17 days after the order. While I was warned items from different boutiques would arrive at different times, it is frustrating. A few days later however, I receive a handsigned note to apologise for the delay as well as a personalised bisucuit which is a charming (and tasty) touch.
Impeccable functionality, but the emotional side of the experience is missing
The Zalando site is impressively comprehensive. There is a plethora of browsing options, including brands, trends, individual items and sectors, which are easy to navigate. Brands are the main focus, and big names and niche designers sit side by side. Imagery on the home page is strong, and the products easy to find below the campaign shots. With so many products on offer, the 13 options to refine them are needed.
The “Fashion Glossary” is a fun tool, showcasing edits of popular trends, such as “Scandi Style”. In addition to an instant chat function, the site is also integrated with Facebook messenger, which is able to direct me to specific styles on the site when I ask. Zalando displays the expected delivery date of an item before you complete the purchase, and my order arrives on the day promised.
In many ways, the site matches the offer from Asos. However, while some campaign imagery is strong, there is no clear Zalando brand identity. The product pages themselves feel very sparse. It is functional, but less engaging. I am not inclined to browse around the site.
In The Style
Celebrity collaborations give In The Style a distinct fast fashion niche
As a relative newcomer to the fast fashion scene, In The Style delivers on trend-focused designs and easy use. The “trends” tab on the home page is a particularly nice touch, and makes edits easy to find. The edits themselves are impressively comprehensive, and the section shows off In The Style’s reactive designs. The collaborations section is also a winner, showcasing tie-ups with celebrities such as Made in Chelsea’s Binky Felstead and Geordie Shore’s Charlotte Crosby. In terms of functionality, the site is simple and easy to navigate – the layout is fairly simple, allowing for a quick browsing experience. The dynamic homepage, with its animated GIFs and flashing images, keeps me on the site.
While most of the imagery is clear and strong, showcasing the product clearly on models, some of the product shots are taken in situ, either selfies in bedrooms or on the street. While this does break up the site a little, and allows the brand to showcase its celeb fans, the images are not always excellent quality and can look a little out of place. While the product is hugely trend led, it does not make as much of an impact as PrettyLittleThing or Missguided, and seems to feature more basics, simpler shapes and colours. Delivery is £3.99, which is more expensive than the cheapest item offered on the site (a sale beanie hat for £2.99).
A pleasant ecommerce offer, but disappointingly basic on the tech front, and left behind by its luxury competitors
Despite stocking an impressive array of designers, MyTheresa feels like a more curated, niche and personal luxury offer than the ecommerce behemoths of the sector. The offer is strong, and has a focus on statement pieces. The site is elegant and uncluttered – its simplicity allows the products to shine. Sizes from overseas are automatically converted to UK sizes and their availability is shown without the need to click through.
In terms of visuals, MyTheresa falls behind its luxury competitors and there are far fewer added extras to keep me on the site. Style edits provide a small number of suggestions, but they are less comprehensive or inspirational than the outputs from Net-a-Porter or Farfetch. Generally, the site feels less advanced than its competitors – no clever sizing guides or chatbots. The free delivery threshold, at £500, is also higher than other sites, and the standard delivery of £10 is double that of Net-a-Porter.
Retrohaze part213512 1
Despite some strong branding, Nasty Gal lacks a defined and consistent identity
Now under the control of the Boohoo group, US etailer Nasty Gal delivers on targeted content, strong visuals and slick service. A newly revamped player in the UK market, it is built on the foundations of a more established business in the US. Offers are prominent, images clear and quirky, and the buying process extremely smooth with an easy checkout. Where Nasty Gal stands out is through its blog and campaign content and product – both of which have a distinct voice that separates it from similar brands such as Boohoo. There is a vintage-inspired, experimental tone to the visuals, which gives it a point of difference.
While the edgy visuals are strong and generally express an engaging brand identity, this is not always consistent with the product imagery, which is indistinguishable from that on sites such as Boohoo or PrettyLittleThing and styled in ways that contrast with the wider site content. The brand’s history and identity could be better expressed. Other handy aspects are also missing from the site – there is no “shown with” feature, which would be useful giving the unique styling, and would help upsell.
Impeccable details, offer and usability, but inconsistent product imagery negates the luxury experience
A swish homepage greets me when I open the Yoox site – it has minimal details, but is well organised and not too cluttered. A nifty feature is a weather widget that tells me it is 15°C and raining in London, and suggests I might like to buy a trench coat or some ankle boots. The site feels a lot more pared back and functional than its stablemates Mr Porter or Net-a-Porter. The number of brands and designers on offer is impressive, in particular in the premium and luxury section – and the site sells several small or hard-to-find brands alongside big names. A size guide indicating whether pieces fit large or small is a neat addition, as is the “Dream Box” – a wishlist with a more appealing name. Alongside the traditional payment options, Yoox offers users the option to pay cash on delivery for a £5 fee.
Image quality varies. While all products are shown both on a model and as a cutout, the quality of the cutout shots sometimes does not do justice to the item, and it is difficult to get an accurate impression of all products. At £9, standard delivery is more expensive than most other premium players.
Trend led and fun, but far from flawless
Bold, brash and eye-wateringly pink, Missy Empire ticks boxes for trend-led designs at super-accessible prices: its dresses start at £11. The homepage is dotted with money-saving deals, and promotes the loyalty scheme, which offers a much more tangible return than many other similar schemes – every £1 spent earns a 10p reward. The inbuilt “Insta-shop” function makes shopping from the brand’s social channels very easy, and is an enjoyably different way to explore the site and see new and curated product. This makes up to some extent for the lower quality of content on the site.
It would be nice to see the brand cater to more diverse body types. Unlike many of the fast fashion players, Missy Empire does not offer any curve, petite or tall ranges, even though other newcomers, such as In the Style, do. The order process was faultless, but my item does not arrive the next day as promised, and the day after it is due I receive an email telling me that it has been cancelled as the item I had ordered – and paid for – was out of stock.
Halloween l3 w3
Cleverly considered website let down by a battered delivery
Public Desire’s site looks like a carefully created Instagram account. GIFs and glittering moving images of shoes catch the eye, leading to a good selection of relevant, targeted features and edits. The longer, blogger-led pieces are particularly engaging. Product images are well thought through, and the more unusual footwear styles, such as high-leg gladiator sandals, are shown on models. The descriptions of the products are also clear – offering styling advice and making up for the lack of personal stylist chatbots or similar. Navigating the site was easy, thanks to the large array of sections, which were clearly and simply demarcated. Payment is equally smooth, and provides an option to use Amazon Pay.
Delivery was speedy. However, when my items arrived they were in a battered box and already looked slightly worn. While the products did not cost much in the first place, it took away from the thrill of receiving my order. As with other fast fashion sites, the layout feels very generic, and the copy is not as sharp or witty as competitors. Public Desire’s Halloween promotion, for example, is titled “Curiously Alluring”, compared with Missguided’s snappier “If you’ve got it, haunt it”.
2017 07 10 very christmas shot 03 0321
Some nice personalisation options but neither as slick nor seamless as competitors
Very has the most comprehensive payment offer of all the retailers tested, and there is clear and comprehensive information on its credit options. The site is simple to navigate and options and styles are clearly labelled. It also offers a styling service, which provides clothing suggestions based on a quick quiz.
Once signed in with an account, Very suggests the correct size for you based on the information you provide, which is a nice touch. When I go to add a larger size to my basket, the site flags that it may not fit. Delivery is speedy, and the order process is simple.
Although the range of payment options is a good thing, I am prompted to test the Very flexible plan at every stage of my order, which quickly gets frustrating. The visuals are not as sophisticated as those of some its competitors and there is much less of a focus on editorial content, which means I am less inclined to browse around on the site. On the female-focused homepage an advert for the football video game FIFA 18 jars. While simple searches return the correct results, others prompt unexpected answers. A search for a dress by the brand Three Floor, which is stocked on sister site Very Exclusive, returns results for sofas and vacuum cleaners.
Despite investment and effort, Amazon’s offer is uninspired
Amazon Fashion’s homepage is a pleasant contrast to the relatively functional design of the rest of the etailer’s site. The autumn 17 campaign imagery is attractive, and draws me into the site. It stocks a good mix of brands, including New Look and Gestuz, as well as its own label, Find. The latter offers well-priced, trend-led pieces – a £30 tangerine velvet top stands out as a highlight.
The Amazon reviews function has been smartly adapted for the fashion offer, and feedback from customers on sizing indicates whether a piece will run large or small. The Amazon Prime delivery option means my order arrives the next day, and the payment and delivery options are very easy to navigate.
Despite a recent marketing push and investment, it’s not easy to find Amazon’s fashion offering from the main homepage. Once browsing beyond the dedicated fashion homepage, the product search pages do not give an enjoyable experience. The display uses the standard Amazon layout and appears very boring when compared with the slick designs of its competitors. There are almost too many products on the page to really engage with, tiled across the screen in a functional manner that does not lend itself well to clothing.
The edits on the site are also less well executed than elsewhere. An “Editor’s Picks” bar gives the only sense of considered curation. Given the strong homepage, the rest of the Amazon Fashion offer is something of a letdown.