Do you need high-street advice to buy online?

by Alexander Baxevanis on 14 October 2009

Step into middle England’s best loved department store, stroll through haberdashery to the audio visual department where an awfully well brought-up young man will bend over backwards to find the right TV for you - then go to and buy it.

1926310454_e19d38395aThe text above, one of a recent series of advertising messages by Dixons won’t come as a surprise to those of us at Webcredible who’ve been through countless usability testing sessions with ecommerce websites. Especially when purchasing large, high-value goods or goods where design is an important factor, customers are right to want to “try before they buy”. And this often means browsing the high street, coming up with a shortlist of products and then looking for the cheapest price online.

Dixons’ campaign hasn’t gone without a reply from some of their high street competitors, who rightly point out that Dixons doesn’t even sell many of the upmarket products found in high street stores. And does Dixons really want to highlight that their competitors can provide better advice than they do?

So, apart from creative advertising, what can online retailers do to make consumers more confident to buy online without browsing through the high street? Here’s some tips:

  • Showcase the product online from as many angles as possible. ‘Catwalk’ videos for clothes and demo videos or 360° views for gadgets can replicate (to some extent) the experience of seeing a product up close.
  • Add product reviews and, even better, Q&As with your expert staff. If customers can ask you a question and get a satifactory reply (or even find that their question has been already answered) then they’re more likely to buy without seeking advice from your competitors.
  • Put a generous returns policy in place, and let your customers know. If customers know they can easily return a product they don’t like, they’ll be happier to checkout even when they’re not 100% sure about their purchase. On the other hand, if they get stuck with a product they don’t like they’re less likely to come back.

In our e-commerce usability report, due out next week, we’ve seen that some sites do better than others in helping consumers pick a product. How well does your site perform in this area?

P.S. Come meet us in Ecommerce Expo at Earls Court, 20-21 October.

Photo credit:  Indiana Stan via Flickr / Creative commons

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