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REVIEW: Four design tips the new BHS.com online brand should embrace to thrive

Following the collapse of BHS this summer, the long-standing British retail business embarked on a digital-only comeback in September as BHS.com, so here’s an assessment of the relaunched website from a design and user experience point of view.
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It’s the ultimate back-from-the-dead story: in late August the last BHS stores closed their doors – apparently the final gasp in the slow death of the brand whose decline has cost 11,000 jobs and resulted in a £571m pensions black hole. Then less than a month later and under new ownership the brand is reborn as BHS.com with a focus on mid-market consumers aged 35+.

Anyone mourning the demise of traditional retail brands will want BHS.com to succeed and not go the same way as Woolworths, relaunched online by Shop Direct, only to be subsumed into its flagship brand Very.co.uk. So has BHS.com got what it takes to survive and thrive as a digital only brand?

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The early signs are good with the average order value in the first week of trading reportedly £65, up from £50 for the old BHS.com. From a design and user experience point of view, however, there is a lot of work to do before BHS.com can hope to compete with brands already successfully operating in the mid-market space such as John Lewis, House of Fraser or M&S.

Here are four areas the new online brand needs to focus on to help ensure its reincarnation is more than temporary:

(1) Don’t ignore heritage

Yes, BHS has suffered reputational damage but the brand has been part of the UK’s retail landscape for 88 years. Judging from its Twitter feed (29,800 followers), there is at least some residual affection for BHS. So why change the name from British Homes Stores to The British Home Store? The company’s Facebook page emphasises that BHS.com is a completely different company from the old BHS, however, consumers aren’t likely to make this distinction.

Given that’s the case, why not build on the positives and include an “about” section which talks up the brand’s past and present including how the first shop – a general store – was opened in Brixton in 1928 where no product cost more than a shilling. Heritage and nostalgia count for a lot with consumers and the “new” BHS brand needs all the help it can get.

(2) Make BHS.com aspirational – provide a slice of luxury

Post downturn, bargain basement no longer really cuts it with consumers unless you are Tiger Stores and do so in a way that emphasises value and design. So BHS MD David Anderson’s decision to do less discounting is probably the right move. However, taking the brand more upmarket means making it more aspirational, which I believe the new site does not currently achieve.

The overall visual style, such as the font and use of purple, feels low-end and catalogue-like. From a features point of view, BHS.com does not include an inspiration section and consumers are not helped to discover anything they weren’t planning to buy: contrast this with Selfridges.com whose landing page features no less than six different “inspirations” in order to tempt visitors into spontaneous purchases.

And why not go one step further along the aspirational route and offer customers a slice of luxury through personalised services such as tools to help them choose the right furnishings or lighting?

On the next page, read the remaining two tips for BHS.com to become a booming online business – including recommendations for earning loyalty.

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