An able web apprentice

For businesses building their own websites, reading a good analysis of a site that is very good, but not quite “there” yet can be very helpful. In that spirit we’re going to look at some key aspects of the recently unveiled Masters website (www.masters.com.au).

We need to say that this is clearly one of the best hardware websites in Australia, and that it makes good use of many modern techniques (including integration of social media, which is covered in the technology section of this issue). At the same time, not all the choices Masters has made are perfect. If you choose to truly “go digital” as a strategy, it’s good to know how to go beyond what is, for the moment, the cutting edge in the Australian retail hardware industry.

The home page

It’s quite natural to begin with the home page. Particularly for a site that has recently launched, and that is making quite a new offering in the e-commerce marketplace, the home page is vital to securing regular visitors, and encouraging customers to make that all-important first purchase. Masters has chosen to emulate many aspects of the website of its US partner, Lowe’s, which is a very good idea. Much of the time this works very well, particularly when it comes to the display of a list of products in a search results page or category, and for the display of individual products.

The Masters home page is less successful, emulating the Lowe’s approach only superficially. The original page for launch featured a single static message that highlighted Masters’ price-matching policy. In July, this was improved somewhat by a slideshow that plays images of a few key products and highlights some of the features on the website. While this is better, it still is not as good as Masters’ partner Lowe’s use of the same space. Where Masters’ page promises to price match, Lowe’s presents an attractive, large banner offering a discount on appliances, a free shipping offer, and a short-term financing arrangement. The Amazon site is even more sophisticated. The first impression is of a clean, simple site, which is brought about by the predominant use of a white background. Yet, through the use of both horizontal and vertical tabs, there is additional information available from over 20 pop-up in-view tabs.

Category navigation

Masters uses what is basically a sound idea for category navigation, but pushes it just a little too far. Hover over the “Garden and Outdoor Living” tab, and a drop-down pops up that holds over 70 links. In general, any navigation system that offers a total of 70 links on its first level is going to be confusing and difficult to use.

One of the core problems is that Masters has simply created too many categories for this top-level navigation area. (To be fair, most of the department links return about half this number of links, which is still somewhat high.) Lowe’s handles this quite differently. Rather than offering access to departments directly, the site has a navigation bar that offers a choice between Departments, Inspirations, Projects and Savings. The Departments drop down reveals 19 key departments. As the user hovers over each of these, a list of sub-departments pops up to the right.

Amazon, once again, trumps all of this. It’s roll-over first level menu is listed vertically on the right of the page (freeing up the premium centre of page space). Rolling-over each of the items there brings up a more concise listing for each menu listing, and it includes a final item that brings up a page with every department listed.

Product strategies
One of the really interesting features of the Masters website —emulated from Lowe’s — is how it handles the display of pricing. As this is a full e-commerce site — one where you can purchase items, and not just look them up (the latter being the way the Bunnings site functions) — there can be a conflict created when an individual Masters store offers a special discount on a particular item.

To help with this, Masters requests the user to supply a postcode before it displays pricing. If the individual’s local Masters store has a special deal, the pricing for that deal will be displayed. If the postcode is closer to a non-participating Masters store, the full price will be displayed. This is also how Lowe’s works, and it is a reasonable approach to a difficult problem.

Another great feature the Masters website offers is “click then collect”. Using this, users can buy the item at home over the internet, give someone the receipt and have them come back with exactly what you need. It’s such a great feature that it’s surprising that other retailers haven’t started down this path just yet.

Product listing displays

It’s in this area that Masters begins to really shine. The real meat of any e-commerce site comes down to how products are displayed in category and search lists, as well as in the full product display. The Masters list-level display is excellent. It offers a descriptive headline, a reasonably sized image of the product, a few key facts, and — most importantly — all the stocking and delivery details you need. It’s clean, simple, well laid-out, and takes up just the right amount of space on the page.

A really good innovation is the inclusion of customer review ratings, and a link that enables you to write your own reviews of products you own. No doubt with time, as more people use the site, these will become a great resource for purchasers, and really drive engagement with the site.

Full product listing

The full product listing is also very good for Masters. The listing information is repeated with a larger image of the product. Below this is a tabbed section that lists an Overview, Specifications, Customer Reviews and Delivery details. It’s everything a customer will need to make a purchase decision.

Conclusion

For retailers entering online e-commerce and promotion, Masters has set a new high standard that they will be expected to reach. Up until now most medium-sized, independent hardware retailers have focused on retail locations Masters has developed. They would do well to realise that Masters is going to compete just as forcefully online as it does off-line.

Mastershome