The 50 top UK retail websites

Taking a proposition online is proving more challenging than it looks.

Traditional retailers, from supermarkets and department stores to DIY chains, are all jumping on the Internet bandwagon. But the transition from brick to click is not always smooth and successful.

The latest survey compiled exclusively for Marketing Week by digital consultancy BrandNet looks at retail websites on the Internet. In association with online retail consultancy, BrandNet ranked the websites of the top 50 retailers, based on advertising spend for 1999 according to AC Nielsen.’s online venture tops the league, scoring high marks on all five key categories. It features a variety of content, from special offers to a news service supplied by Reuters. The retailer has transferred the in-store necesssity of keeping the shopper’s interest alive onto the Net. Importantly, the home shopping service, Tesco Direct, is efficient and secure.

One of the other “big five” supermarkets, Sainsbury’s (ranked 16), also earned praise in the survey. If the site has a downside, it is not laid out as logically as a real supermarket, with cluttered content and clumsier navigation than its Tesco rival. The range of groceries for sale is not as wide as Tesco’s and delivery is slower. The Sainsbury’s site is more successful at adding value to the brand through interesting content features such as special offers and customer advice than it is at e-commerce.

Asda is 21st in the league, suffering from a limited range of items in its Asda@Home shopping section and few incentives to purchase online rather than in-store. However, an added bonus is the favourite goods feature, which acts as a weekly shopping list – and effective incentive for consumers to return. Overall, it is an uninspired offering which could do with a makeover.

Safeway (43) has clearly failed to develop a viable online alternative to its stores. The chain offers no Internet shopping service and it is impossible to even see products on the site. The survey brands the website as “irrelevant” and an afterthought which does nothing to attract new shoppers or keep existing consumers entertained or informed.

Ranking even lower, at 45, is Morrisons, which hardly gives “more reasons” to visit the site. Again, there is no home shopping service and the site itself is hard to locate. According to BrandNet the website is even “damaging to the Morrisons brand”.

Perhaps surprisingly, Iceland, which earlier this year rebranded as (MW March 23), languishes in 40th place. But that is largely down to having a technical problem with flash graphics and a confusing menu system which, the survey claims, is “enough to put you off forever”. Rather like having a store with several smashed windows, the Iceland site is unattractive to consumers.

With Somerfield (36) described as dull, Lidl scraping in at 47 and Co-operative Retail Services being the only company in the top 50 retail spenders not to have a website, the survey’s general opinion of supermarkets’ online propositions is poor. Apart from the Tesco site, there is not a lot of evidence to suggest that multiples are getting e-commerce right or attracting new or existing customers to shop online.

Another group of retailers at the forefront of the digital revolution are electrical outlets such as computer and mobile phone chains. Four of the top ten sites are in this sector: Carphone Warehouse (2), mail-order Internet rivals Dabs Direct (5) and Simply Computers (7), and PC World (9). All the sites have common factors which some of the supermarkets’ ailing websites could learn from. They are simply laid out, easy to navigate and have clear and reliable purchasing systems.

The rest of the league is littered with technology retailers, but once again some of the major offline players have failed to live up to their reputation online. Comet (33), part of the Kingfisher group, does offer customer service, information and advice, but does not have a full range of products on sale. Currys (49) has confusing references to parent company Dixons but does not have a link to its website.

Dixons itself has the 14th best website, offering exclusive deals on goods which are updated daily. But unless you register personal details, you can’t buy anything – rather like being asked for your name and address as you walk into a store.

Also making the top ten is (6). Though its US parent company’s share price may have been struggling, the online retailer still has a detailed and attractive site, which is easy to navigate and use. The only other e-tailer in the top 50 is, which makes an appearance through founding company Software Warehouse (18).

Popular high street stores Boots (3), WH Smith (10) and Woolworths (13) all fared well. Key features on all three sites were user incentives and customer contact points but there is more bad news for M&S (29) with the site branded slow and underdeveloped, despite offering some incentives.

Fast-food chains have really only developed websites for brand-building purposes. E-commerce delivery times would go against the whole “fast” idea of buying a burger and fries, so the major players concentrate on adding extra value to their meal deals with a menu of entertaining content and flash graphics. Burger King (20), Pizza Hut (28) and KFC (30) do this best. Unfortunately for McDonald’s, its website is called “disastrous”. However, the burger giant will probably not lose much sleep over this description, considering it hardly needs to build brand recognition.

McDonald’s epitomises the quandary retailers face when they think about taking their proposition online. Is it better to have a website, whatever the quality, than none at alland risk being seen as behind the times with no Web presence? As the big names in retail jockey for position on the Net, rivals in specific retail categories will look to their competitors to see how they can improve their own online propositions.

Websites for traditional retailers fall into two categories: e-commerce and brand-building. E-commerce sites have the specific task of persuading consumers to buy goods online, using content and graphics to promote items. Brand-building websites are much like shop windows. They are used by retailers which have not developed e-commerce strategies but want to provide information and interactivity encouraging consumers to get “more involved” with the brand.

Sainsbury’s and Tesco top the e-commerce categories with well-branded layouts and efficient online purchasing, communicating enthusiasm and authority.

Fast-food giants Burger King and KFC proved the most innovative brand-building sites. The sites are colourful, fun with a good sense of humour and use extensive flash animation.

The league also includes the UK’s top two e-tailers, Amazon and Jungle, which have no offline presence.

Matthew Brown, manager of online retail consultancy , gives his views on the best and worst sites:

“Without a doubt, Safeway and Courts have to win the dummy prizes. The Safeway site blinds you with its varied colours and stuns you with the sheer irrelevance and banality of the information it presents. The Courts site is infuriatingly unreliable and out-of-date.

“Asda’s website has the cheekiest feature. Their ‘Talent Store’ careers section encourages prospective graduate employees to fill out an online questionnaire. But get the questions wrong and your application is declined and you are politely directed to one of Asda’s competitors.”

Pos Brand WebSite Score Comment 1 Tesco 79.2 Well laid-out site. Streamlined, secure purchasing, enhances brand authority 2 Carphone Warehouse 73.4 Excellent search facilities.Well constructed payment system, good use of incentives 3 Boots the Chemist 72.4 Wealth of associated, interesting and relevant information and articles 4 Argos 72.2 Logical, colour coded navigation with a good site demo. Good customer services 5 Dabs Direct 71.3 Features a comprehensive product range and a streamlined purchasing system 6 Amazon UK 70.6 Detailed and comprehensive, easy to navigate. Simple purchasing and wide range 7 Simply Computers 70 Well designed site with comprehensive product offer and a logical purchasing system 8 Blockbuster 70 Well laid-out but some technical problems. Interesting content, good customer contact 9 PC World 69.5 Consistently branded and easy to use but frustrating purchasing system 10 WH Smith 69 Good search facility; simple, secure purchasing. Well branded; good use of incentives 11 B&Q 68.1 Comprehensive customer service info, products and expert advice. No online shopping 12 Specsavers 68 Innovative user features – book appointments, talk to Optician, view frames 13 Woolworths 67.7 Well branded, clear, some online incentives and good customer service options 14 Dixons 66.6 E commerce site features online exclusives, but frustrating purchasing system 15 Vodafone 66.4 URL not immediately obvious. Informative, up to date, makes purchasing easy 16 Sainsbury’s 66 Interesting features enhance brand. Shopping slow and cumbersome, limited range 17 Toys R Us 63.9 Some design flaws, limited product range but good search facilities. Simple purchasing 18 Software Warehouse 63.6 Colourful and innovatively branded, some design flaws. Comprehensive in its offer 19 MFI 63.1 Unattractive site. Good search and registration offers. Must register before purchasing 20 Burger King 62.8 Fun, colourful; extensive use of flash technology. Features games and competitions 21 ASDA 62 Little that is original or interesting. Favourites section a good reason to return 22 Homebase 61.7 Complicated navigation. Incentive to buy and 15% off certain products 23 Debenhams 61.1 Lots of opportunities for consumer feedback, incentives given for consumer info 24 Tiny 60.6 Confusing layout; good customisation options and makes purchasing simple 25 Boots Opticians 60.4 Does not use stylesheets so layout changes according to browser 26 Focus Do It All 59.6 Link to shopping does not work on Netscape. Limited incentives, but good core offer 27 Vision Express 58.3 Online purchasing not available, but some useful customer service offers 28 Pizza Hut 57.8 Fun interactive features. Purchasing and delivery are not available through site 29 Marks & Spencer 57.7 A poorly designed site,search facilities unreliable. Potential, but rather disappointing 30 Kentucky Fried Chicken 57.6 Fun, colourful, interactive but some technical flaws. Works well as a brand builder 31 DFS 57.1 Beautifully designed but no online purchasing and store locator not always reliable 32 Superdrug 55.8 Well branded, easy to navigate and interesting info. Shopping not yet available 33 Comet 53.7 Confusing e commerce with limited product range; thoughtful customer service offers 34 Ikea 53.7 E-shopping not available. Depth of content makes the site slightly confusing to use 35 Granada UK Rental 52.3 URL hard to find. Slow, complicated animation, links do not always work 36 Somerfield 51.6 A simple information site that is easy to use but dull in design and content 37 Time Computers 49.8 Rather messy, detailed product information, friendly tone of voice. No online shopping 38 Allders 47.7 Which Web Trader certified. Allows payment with account card. Good customer service 39 Aldi 46.9 Limited promotion of special offers, but without an online purchasing service 40 Iceland 43.7 Very poor site with unreliable navigation, limited content and inconsistent branding 41 McDonald’s 40.2 Disastrous site. Poorly branded, content limited with no incentives to visit 42 House of Fraser 35.1 No online shopping. Only flash version of site, which had technical problems 43 Safeway 33.7 Poor site considering Safeway’s market position. Lurid colours, confusing content 44 Courts 33.5 Unreliable site with broken links, no set up for customer contact. Damages brand 45 Morrisons 32.8 Poorly designed, cluttered and unreliable. No shopping and no interest incentives 46 The Link 23.5 Not active, due to be launched in Winter 2000. No links to Dixons. Very poor 47 Lidl 20 Dull corporate site without any discernible proposition or interest 48 Furniture Village 12.7 Site unavailable – being updated. Homepage appears but no links or contact details 49 Currys 10.9 Holding page announces a launch that is already out of date. No link to Dixons 50 Cooperative Retail Services no site

Top ten websites

No 1Tesco

Finding the Site15.7



Delivery of Proposition15.3


Streamlined, secure purchasing enhances brand authority. A vast array of content, services and information – all laid out clearly and simply. Excellent application of brand colours, typefaces and icons. Includes news and features unconnected to company products (news is from Reuters). One of the most impressive sites we have seen.

No 2Carphone Warehouse

Finding the Site14.5



Delivery of Proposition14.7


Comprehensive, well-designed site with excellent search facilities. Good content and interesting features such as “encyclopedia mobilia”. Purchasing system well constructed and good use of Net incentives. Contact details are exclusive and you can “e-mail the boss”.

No 3Boots The Chemist

Finding the Site16.4



Delivery of Proposition13.3


Beautifully designed. Works hard to add value and interest. Advantage Points available with online purchases. Good customer feedback and contact, and a wealth of information and articles.

No 4Argos

Finding the Site14.5



Delivery of Proposition13.3


Logical, colour coded navigation which corresponds with catalogue, but does not work across all browsers and platforms. Some products advertised on TV are not available online. Good incentives and free delivery when you spend over a 100. Order and store collection service is available for instant fulfillment. Good customer services.

No 5Dabs Direct

Finding the Site16.4



Delivery of Proposition12.9


Buying online is made simple and secure, but URL not immediately obvious. Provides clear corporate information, product offers and support and contact details. Consistent brandingy and site is easy to navigate. Purchasing is clear and easy.

No 6Amazon UK

Finding the Site16.4



Delivery of Proposition13.3


A detailed and comprehensive site that is clearly laid out, simple to navigate and easy to use. Simple purchasing and an attractive wide ranging offer

No 7Simply Computers

Finding the Site14.5



Delivery of Proposition13.8


Good, build your own computer service, but URL not immediately obvious. Simple navigation, and up-to-date, comprehensive range of products. A good site to visit to get what you need. Clear, well designed site with a logical purchasing system.

No 8Blockbuster

Finding the Site16.4



Delivery of Proposition14.7


A well laid-out and designed site, though there were some technical problems. It was also difficult to use without a PC. Interesting content – you can watch film previews, and good customer contact with competitions and registration, Online shopping is not available yet

No 9PC World

Finding the Site12.7



Delivery of Proposition13.7


A detailed, well-constructed, brand consistent site that is clear and easy to navigate, but online shopping requires registration. It is easy to find and content is good – best buys displayed prominently. Good related articles – tips, business news – computer reviews. This is a good site to visit for information on computers and associated products.

No 10WH Smith

Finding the Site12.7



Delivery of Proposition13.3


A detailed, comprehensive and well designed site which has a good search facility and simple secure online purchasing. Well branded and it makes good use of incentive online discounts. Easy to navigate.


Digital consultancy has developed the Internet Strategy Evaluation Tool (iSET), which scores websites on five categories:

Location: Does the site have a logical address, which is visible on-pack and in ads? Is it known by top search engines and the brand customer careline? If you’re interested in Guinness or Coca-Cola, can you find the brand website?

Navigation: Can you navigate the site without it crashing or being frustratingly slow?

Content: Is it consistent with the brand’s offline, above-the-line marketing message?

Brand proposition: Are the colours and typefaces the same as on the brand packaging?

Effectiveness: Are there good enough reasons to visit the site? Is it an interactive medium, not just a place to showcase the latest ad campaign?

BrandNet tested websites for the top 50 retail brands, based on advertising expenditure figures for 1999 (AC Nielsen Pocket Guide 2000). Online retail consultancy assisted BrandNet with the league table. Sites will be revisited and re-evaluated on a regular basis.

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