UK Retail Mobile Sites Turning Away Some Shoppers

15 12 2012

Being mobile-ready for the holidays is important for leading retailers.  Recently we looked at leading US retail sites and saw that by and large, they hadn’t done sufficient testing of the mobile websites.  Now we turn across the pond and examine 5 leading UK retailers:

  • Marks & Spencer
  • Next
  • Boots
  • John Lewis
  • Tesco

We conducted some very simple tests to see how their sites fared on popular mobile devices located in London:

  • iPhone 4 (Orange)
  • Samsung Galaxy S 3 (Android on Vodafone)
  • BlackBerry Bold (Vodafone)
  • iPad 3 (Wi-Fi)

Some retailers such as Boots are making strong efforts to follow mobile best practices and creating a pretty good experience for their customers.  Others seem content to deliver their desktop site to the small screen and haven’t accounted for the needs of the mobile shopper.  But even the best retailers in this study didn’t seem to be testing their website across enough devices to ensure that all shoppers enjoy the best possible mobile shopping experience.  The problems we find would certainly not be tolerated on a desktop site.  It’s unfortunate because mobile offers an opportunity for differentiation and if the leading sites aren’t fully ready.  This holiday season it seems that the UK Retail sector as a whole isn’t meeting the expectations of the customers they serve.


Here’s a quick glimpse of what we saw:

Marks & Spencer

1 - Marks & Spencer Home Sizing The home page seems to be optimized for the iPhone (right) as you’ll see the content modules cut off on the Android device (on left).  It’s good that they have a search button at the top of the page but a key feature on the mobile site for any Brick & Mortar retailer is a Store Locator tool.  This isn’t found on either screen.

2 - M&S BB Home

On the BlackBerry the M&S homepage site provides even less value.  The large site downloads very slowly and the banner doesn’t seem appropriate for the screen. As you scroll down looking for additional functionality you also see navigation arrows cut off on the sides.

3 - Store Locator Fail

Once we found the Store Locator we were able to find the closest store on most devices except the Android where the Find Nearest Store button did not work.

4 - iPad Basket

Finally, we wanted to make sure that a shopper could successfully add a product to their basket.  To celebrate the time of the year we selected Crackers and were able to add them to the basket on the iPad.


But Christmas crackers will not be on the wish list of smartphones shoppers….

5 - M&S Basket Fail


The next website is certainly not optimized for the mobile user.  It’s effectively useless on the BlackBerry and you’ll notice misaligned spacing on the Android device.

6 - Next Home

The location button works on iOS (below left) but does not display properly BlackBerry (below right) or Android.

7 - Next Location Button

And while it did work on the Android, the button did not on the iPad:

8 - Next Location iPad

We then went shopping on the Next site and quickly ran into issues.  On the iPad the user gets the desktop version of the site.  However that is only useful when hover lets the user see prices under the cursor.  Hover functionality isn’t useful on a tablet so the page is not user friendly.

9 -Next Shopping

 Christmas items on the iPad

 9 - Hover in Chrome

 Hovering in Chrome


Next’s problems didn’t end there.  Seeing the Christmas section on the iPhone we noticed that the page did not render properly leaving a blank white space on the side of the screen.  Worse yet, the Christmas navigation button failed to produce any results on the Android.

11 - Christmas items on iPhone and Android

We were able to successfully add socks to our basket on the iPhone, but on the Android when we selected size we were only given an option for color.

12 - Next Socks

No socks for you!



Boots does a very good job at creating a web experience that’s appropriate for both tablet and smartphone users.  They have a good iPhone site with the Store Locator and Search prominent in a design lightened up for mobile.  The navigation on the iPhone is mobile-friendly. Also, instead of promoting app as many sites do they promote desktop shortcut to website.  Many customers prefer the mobile web over apps for retail and Boots respects this navigation preference.

 13 - Boots Home iOS

While the home page image isn’t ideal for the BlackBerry—having search and store location prominent gives the basic tools that a user needs.  Unfortunately the image failed to load for the Android device.


When it comes to finding the store location—Boots was successful on all devices.

15 - Boots Purchase

While an image failed to load again on the Android while searching for product, we were able to add items to the cart on this and all other devices tested.The Boots retail site was one of the best tested.  They were arguably a few Android tests away from truly hitting the mark.

John Lewis

Firstly, John Lewis chooses to send tablet users to the desktop version of their site.  This may make navigation a bit difficult without a mouse— but it isn’t necessarily a bad decision.  However it could lead to a slow download on slower mobile networks.   John Lewis’s bigger problem is that the mobile sites do not share a consistent look and feel with the desktop version of the site.

16 - JL Home iPad

On the BlackBerry the home page delivers the user very little value.

16 - JL Home BB

Their iPhone 4 site the basket and search are prominently featured (good) but store locator is not above the fold. Within the search bar the text is cut off.

17 - JL Home iOS and SS

On the Android the search bar text is present… but so is a misplaced line above the logo  cutting through the basket button. Once  found, the store locator tool worked well across all devices.

18 - JL Hamper

Hamper shopping on the iPad 3 produced was a user-friendly experience with plenty of product information and visuals.  The basket updated properly.

19 - JL Hamper SS

Searching for Hampers on the Android device produced some questionable results.  Here we see an inconsistent background with grey fields highlighted by these boxes.  The View More text is aligned to the top of the bar which is not consistent with display elsewhere on the site.  Finally, lacking a Buy Now or Add to Cart link makes selecting these product more difficult.

20 - JL Hamper Buy SS

At product level we’re still missing an obvious means to add the hamper to the basket until you scroll down.  Then you find a quantity drop down sitting lonely inside a box with a Buy Now Button featured a good distance away.  The next product below seems to have the preferred presentation.



Finally we looked at the TESCO website which was effectively scaled back for the mobile user and presented a Store Location button with clean light design for the smartphone shopper.  A search option would be a good enhancement.

21 - TESCO home

But on the iPhone and BlackBerry the product categories are cut off making it apparent that they designed with the Android user in mind.

22 - TESCO home iOS BB

But when you navigate to a product section it no longer seems that the Android user is the intended audience.  The empty space at the bottom indicates that this page was not designed for the screen of this particular smartphone:

23 - TESCO product page

We navigated to the Christmas products page and saw this error on the navigation bar:

24 - TESCO Christmas

Finally, when purchasing a hamper, we noticed that iPhone and Android devices both had same issues with misplaced question marks and run-on product description, but we were able to successfully add item to the basket.

25 - TESCO basket


In the end it seemed that all UK Retailers studied would have benefited from additional mobile testing in preparation for the holiday season.  Some issues found were egregious, while other seemed relatively minor.  But one should note that none of these issues are considered acceptable for large, well-known websites and you’d be hard pressed to find similar mistakes made on desktop websites.   The mobile web has some way to go to catch up to the quality standards set for online shopping and demanded by today’s consumers.




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