In the final instalment of our spring 16 Hit or Miss secret shopper series, we turn our attention to pureplay online retailers.
Online Hit or Miss
For this Hit or Miss, Drapers tested online retailers and rated them according to usability, visual appeal, ease of transaction, delivery and returns, as well as the product itself. Drapers ordered next-day delivery – where available – and purchased similarly priced products from all suppliers, with a maximum spend of £35.
The difference in the results is astonishing. Unlike bricks-and-mortar stores, online retailers do not even need to leave their desks to analyse their competitors, so it was surprising to find so many differences between the available propositions.
Winning sites make up for a lack of human sales advisers with smart, efficient service and exceptional attention to detail. When this is lacking, it is glaringly obvious by comparison and, in a competitive market, unlikely to inspire a return visit, let alone a future purchase.
Small details make all the difference – from considerate packaging, to offering practical solutions for busy customers to make returns and, of course, the content of the website itself. Presentation is everything, but the highest points were awarded to those who went a step further than the norm to delight their customers.
- Mr Porter 10/10
- Net-a-Porter 9/10
- Pretty Little Thing 9/10
- Asos 8/10
- Avenue 32 8/10
- Boohoo 7/10
- Zalando 7/10
- Farfetch 6/10
- Missguided 6/10
- Very 5/10
- Yoox 4/10
- Amazon 3/10
A truly exceptional experience with plenty of unique selling points
The site exceeds all others for editorial appeal: non-fashion content covers sports, cooking and more, in the form of articles and videos, enticing customers to return frequently to browse – and probably purchase again. Options for searching by “product view” or “whole outfit view” wins service points in the absence of sales assistants, while details such as calling product descriptions “editor’s notes” or incorporating hand-drawn sketches into the design give a sophisticated feel. Packaging is superb: a “welcome pack” includes a free pocket square, a booklet explaining the process for returns and further “style notes” advice. The box is padded, so the carefully wrapped product does not move around. Next-day delivery is £8. Unlike stablemate Net a Porter, there is an option to drop off your return, as well as wait for a courier collection. It would all be impressive for a premium shopping experience where lots of money was spent, but considering the item ordered was just £25, it is a clear winner.
To arrange the return, I have to call the returns service provider myself rather than book online as is possible with the likes of Farfetch, which is a small inconvenience.
Almost a perfect score but for returns, which could be more convenient
The site presents product in a magazine style, suggesting ideas such as “what to wear for Sunday brunch”, as opposed to specific trends, so browsing is more interesting and relatable. Mobile and desktop see a nice blend of affordable to luxury fashion brands promoted (fashion prices start at £25 for a top and go up to £14,400 for a gown), and navigation is straightforward. Next day delivery at £8 is available when ordering up to 3pm, which is later than average, arriving promptly, as does the courier for returns. Packaging is by far the best for all womenswear, with a sleek box wrapped in ribbons and tissue paper. Having ordered a product from a mid-priced line also available on Zalando, which would have arrived in a plastic bag, it feels incomparably more luxurious.
Other sites allow returns to be booked purely online, but Net a Porter requires a frustrating phone call to the returns service provider’s automated customer line which inevitably leads to waiting for an adviser. With no option for drop-off, for working customers there is quite a limited time for returns to be arranged without waiting in at home.
A frontrunner for top marks if the product appeal was slightly broader
With moving images, video and lots of focus on photography and design, the site is more like an interactive magazine than an online retailer, and product looks enticing. The content and copywriting hits the right tone for the target customer, making it fun to browse. Details are impressive – packaging is re-sealable, and leaflets enclosed come in a PLT-branded envelope. At £1.50 next-day delivery is the cheapest available, while £8.99 for a year of unlimited next-day delivery is a clever loyalty ploy. Product is the best of the young fashion offers, with a nice weight and drape to the fabric, and it remains properly folded, even during delivery. Five options for returns include courier and drop-off services. Saturday delivery for £1, if booked before 4pm Friday, is another clever tactic well suited to the customer looking for a party or special-occasion dress.
There is not as much on offer for a wide range of customers compared to its competitors, and a lot of product is either body-con or fairly revealing. For instance, Asos and Missguided both have plus-size ranges.
Among the strongest for convenience but let down by poor-quality own brand
Easily one of the most comprehensive product offers around, covering every conceivable trend while introducing its own via sub-brands such as Asos Africa. The site is easy to navigate and clean with editorially focused layout offering additional content from street style to fashion news. This continues on its mobile site, which is so slick it is more like an app. Product is among the best showcased, with video content and clear descriptions, while copywriting on site is customer appropriate and warm. This carries on to the packaging, making for strong synergy. Details like re-sealable packaging are better thought through than most competitors’, and with next-day delivery available even after the usual deadline of 12pm and arriving before 9am the next day, service is spot on for convenience. Multiple returns options include collection from home within 24 hours.
The product is the poorest quality of the young fashion online retailers, with flimsy fabric and shoddy stitching. Presentation could improve: the top was wrapped around an A4 sheet of paper as opposed to Zalando’s tissue-wrapping. At £5.95, next-day delivery is the most expensive of the young fashion online retailers and a similar price to Mr Porter at £8.
Not quite hitting top marks due to a less convenient returns service
The site is lovely, rivalling Net a Porter for premium photography and presentation, although with slightly less editorial content to browse. Detailed product and brand descriptions keep the focus on sales, which is no bad thing. The selection of product on offer is broad, with a pricing structure rivalling competitors, starting at an accessible £25 for tops up to luxury levels such as £4,475 for a dress. Delivery options are limited to delivering in one to two days (for free) or on Saturdays (for £12). I ordered on a Monday and it arrived the next day, beating other premium services on cost. Packaging rivals Net a Porter for style and included a returns pack in a sleek envelope with pre-printed free postage labels.
Arranging a return is harder than most, with two phone calls required to Avenue 32 (where the adviser was lovely) and the returns service provider. With the phone line only open until 6pm, for working customers it is less convenient to find the time to arrange the collection, which was the only returns option.
Strong product and service with points lost for overlooking details on site
The home screen works like Pinterest, pulling out items and mixing these pins with street style and editorial, making for an engaging browsing experience. Search options are thorough and conveniently located. Own-brand product offers great-quality fabric for the fast fashion offer, and at similar prices to Asos they are among the best value. Definitely the best-presented delivery of the young fashion retailers, arriving wrapped in tissue paper. There was no option for next-day delivery, but free delivery arrives in one working day, which is impressive.
Like Amazon, if you click on “all clothing” it is sorted by ”most popular” meaning at its most basic, the site shows items from £11 to £275 listed simultaneously, devaluing the more premium items. Asos avoids this by curating lists, such as ”what’s new” with no ‘all clothing’ option, to present similar pricing structures together. The mobile app is fine, but there is a lot going on for a small screen, so content could be better formatted. Frustrations include having to choose between click and collect or home delivery when paying but not being shown delivery time slots until three pages later.
Points for quality and service but still a few annoyances to contend with
The range of product covers a wide spectrum without overwhelming customers. On-location photo shoots are an impressive showcase for current trends and make a noticeable difference to the overall presentation. Boohoo’s mobile site is one of the more straightforward to navigate, with emphasis on finding product easily as well as showcasing editorial features. Lots of delivery options, including Sunday delivery, are convenient, and the item arrives before 9am the next day and cost £1.99, which is cheaper than Asos but more expensive than PrettyLittleThing, which was the cheapest. Returns are also simple, with pre-printed labels included in the package. Fabric quality is much better than Asos for a similarly basic top and great value for money.
A few details are annoying, like having to remember to enter a promo code for next-day delivery instead of it being automatically calculated, and not confirming the delivery date on the invoice. Some aspects of the site did not work well, with category descriptions popping up then disappearing. Unlike Asos, its most obvious competitor, there is no option for returns collection and it does not have some of the finer points like re-sealable packaging to gain further points.
A strong USP that would be more competitive with further delivery options
The uniqueness of the ”shop by boutique” service is well emphasised and explained, with plenty of “how to shop” information and detailed descriptions and images of boutiques. The site can also be used like any other, with plainer search options by country or product type all very comprehensive. The mobile site blends the two different propositions well. Returns are easy to arrange online with the returns service provider, avoiding the irritating phone calls required by Net a Porter and Mr Porter.
I purposefully choose an item from a London store on the basis of convenience, but the delivery charge is a pricey £10 and only a two-to-four-day delivery estimate is offered. It is difficult to find a UK-based item that is less than £70 and with foreign items costing more for delivery, it does not offer the broad price range of competitors like Net a Porter. Unlike all other stores, returns cannot be generated until the day after delivery. The constant explanations can border on patronising, such as asking “are you sure you want to click on womenswear?”, and frequent pop-ups are a little annoying.
Highly impressive website that is let down by product presentation
For its target customer, the website is the most visually appealing, with copywriting spot on for humour and tone, while the mobile site is equally slick. Product photography is lovely and displayed particularly large, which along with video content gives an appealing, detailed look at the offer. As well as hitting current trends, it has unique offers like a fun range by Pamela Anderson to separate it from its competitors.
Compared with the likes of Very and Boohoo, the internal packaging around the product is horrible, with stiff plastic wrapping that leaves the item really crumpled. Product quality is poor compared to the similarly-priced Zalando, and while the on-trend design offer does add value, it does not have the scope of Asos. It is the only retailer to charge a returns fee (£2.50), although with next-day delivery at £1.99 the overall delivery and returns price is still less than Asos. Small annoyances include not displaying the price on the receipt in the package, meaning I had to remind myself online, and not including re-packaging instructions for returns.
A site with a lot of potential but still some room for improvement
Unique features like a style adviser where you input your hair and eye colour for suggested items work really well, but the editorial side of the site could do with better promotion or placement, particularly on mobile – there is plenty of content such as an e-zine, but it goes quite unnoticed. More emphasis is placed on money-saving options than on the product itself, which is a shame as the range is strong, from own-brand to high street labels, but the “value” emphasis does add a USP. Own-brand product is fine for both quality and design and arrives with pre-printed returns labels, which makes the process straightforward. There is no option for collection of returns from your home, but Collect+ is still convenient.
Constant pop-ups are irritating, and messages such as ”[item] purchased XX times in last 24 hours” seem excessive. Next-day delivery arrived after 6pm, which misses the point of having an outfit delivered for the next day or evening. Product descriptions could be a little more imaginative in comparison to the likes of Missguided or Asos.
Negatives far outweigh the positives, which only do as well as competitors’ at best
The site looks as good as other premium online retailers, with interesting content spanning lifestyle and fashion and attractive photography. Promoting its USP effectively, Yoox offers detailed explanations for its product pricing (offering end of season at a discounted price) and the range is broad, with the search parameters from £9 to £3,500.
The search is annoyingly placed at the top of the page, so it is not immediately obvious where the results are without scrolling, and frequent pop-ups interrupt browsing. Next-day delivery is an astronomical £22.50 compared with Mr Porter at £8, and standard delivery of £7 is far more expensive than elsewhere. It undermines the discounted product prices when you can purchase the same brands in-season from retailers like Mr Porter and save the money on delivery. Packaging is an unimpressive crumpled cardboard box – although it is explained as eco-friendly, it does not compare to other premium offers. Returns are arranged via an exasperating automated telephone line which takes much more time than with competitors, although the parcel was impressively picked up the same day as it was delivered.
A convenient service that falls flat on aesthetics
Amazon beats all competition when it comes to returns, with a full refund completed within four days of my initial order. Plenty of delivery and returns options make for a user-friendly service.
Anyone who has shopped on Amazon may be familiar with its DVD packaging, but would you expect your clothing to arrive in it? Shoved into a tiny cardboard box, it is laughable that, after my top arrived crumpled and without a receipt or returns instructions, Amazon Fashion emailed to ask for a review of its packaging. Browsing clothing on Amazon is like visiting a digital Primark on a busy day. Clothing starts at £0.01 for a top and the offer is overwhelmingly large. The “featured” range includes items from £7.99 to £129 all displayed together. The mobile site is much better looking than the desktop site as it is more minimal, but the homepage features “items 1-14 of 6,203,000”, which is ludicrous. Delivery options make little sense: next-day delivery at £3.94 is 4p cheaper than standard delivery and Express Delivery – which is also next day – costs £8.99.