Next wins top digital experience... almost

by Philip Webb on 14 February 2012

Our recent Retail report evaluated the multi-channel e-commerce experience for 15 of the UK’s best known high street retailers. Next performed really well with scores of 4 or 5 out of 5 for the majority of guidelines, and it’s likely that it would have come top but for a poor checkout process (check out the report for the winner, it isn’t who we were expecting!). For Next, the guideline specifying that the ‘Checkout process is appropriate, effective and easy to use’ gave them no points at all. There are lessons here for everyone so pay attention…

The Next checkout process suffers from

  • Poor feedback following add to basket actions
  • Confusing login/register form (which you can read more about in my other blog ‘Most common checkout usability issue ever‘) and,
  • Incomplete and inconsistently displayed progress bar amongst other issues.

However, the worst offence by next in their check out process was the forced ‘Credit account’ that online customers are essentially forced to open… That is what I am going to look into in this blog post.

1. Reading the small print

However, the main issue with the checkout relates to the default creation of a Next credit account. After entering personal details, customers reach the following page:

On the face of it, this page is about whether to get free delivery by requesting the catalogue, and checking the terms and conditions box before proceeding to payment. Customers generally don’t read the terms and conditions but perhaps in this case they should.

There’s a lot of extra text on this page below the preference options dealing with separate matters, but buried between information about the invoice for the directory and viewing directory statements online, is the crucial text about agreeing to open a credit account and agreeing to a credit search being carried out.

It’s easy for customers eager to complete the checkout process to miss this information because of the other visual clutter, but it’s also likely that customers won’t be expecting a credit account to be opened since the vast majority of ecommerce transactions just prompt for a credit or debit card.

2. Where are you in the process?

If customers press the ‘Complete’ button, and the credit account isn’t successfully created, the following page is presented:

This is likely to confuse and surprise customers who weren’t even aware that Next was trying to set up a credit account for them. It’s also potentially confusing because the progress bar has disappeared and it’s not immediately clear where customers are in the process. Payment symbols are displayed but the expected payment page hasn’t appeared. There’s a button but the label ‘Continue shopping’ is usually associated with ‘exit the basket page and return to the main site to browse more items’.

3. Forced further actions

However, if customers press the ‘Complete’ button in the previous page, and the credit account is successfully created, delivery details are checked and the goods are automatically sent to the registered address:

The page encourages customers to ‘relax’ but they’re unlikely to relax if a) they were unaware that a credit account was being created and b) they didn’t want a credit account in the first place.

The option to pay by debit or credit card is offered, but as a less prominent link rather than a more obvious button. Even if customers only ever intended to pay immediately (rather than open a credit account) this option isn’t provided. You have to open a credit account and then close it. But you’d better be quick:

If you take too long to decide, then Next decides for you and assumes you’ll be paying through the credit account.

In a conventional checkout process (one that customers are expecting), customers will be looking for a confirmation page before payment just to check that everything’s correct. In the Next checkout process this does happen before payment but the consequence of confirming is that the goods are automatically sent. Customers can’t bail out of the process at the last minute by not providing payment details because by this time, the goods are on their way.

This is a poor customer experience because some customers will rightly feel they’ve been forced or tricked into a credit account they never wanted. At least in a physical Next store, the option to open a credit account is explicitly offered before you pay.

The consequences

Multiple credit card checks are known to impact negatively on credit history, so customers who never planned to open a credit account would justifiably feel aggrieved about Next performing one by default. Following customer complaints, Next announced that by August 2011 it would only implement ‘soft’ credit checks that don’t leave a mark on customers’ credit history. Even if this has been implemented, wording in the checkout process only refers to a ‘credit check’ so it’s unclear what the impact on credit history would be.

A more transparent approach that gives customers control would be to offer the option to open a credit account (with all the undoubted benefits that go with it) at the payment part of the process rather than immediately after personal details are registered. Have you experienced the shock of having a credit account with Next, or any other retailers? Let us know in the comments below!

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