Hotel Chocolat recently launched a new website as part of a key strategic objective to improve their digital capabilities. Positioning itself as the “hedonistic chocolate” company, the British chocolatier and omnichannel retailer has always offered beautiful pages and some original functionality, but was let down by an unforgiving search tool and a poorly designed and lengthy checkout on its old site.
As a long-time loyal customer (as my waistline bears testament to), I was interested to see how well the new digital platform supports the luxury chocolate retailer’s proposition and provides an omnichannel experience. In evaluating the site I will focus on a number of key features, some of which are digital engagement and commerce features expected by today’s consumer. However, there are some key unique selling points (USP) of the Hotel Chocolat offering that I will also appraise.
General customer experience and site design
As befits the brand, the overall site look and feel is sophisticated, clean and uncluttered with visually appealing imagery. The homepage banner below also features interactive elements that you can click on to find out more about a product, which is a nice touch.
The web design is fully responsive to cater for desktop, mobile and tablet devices, however the first thing you see when browsing the product listing pages on mobile is a set of filter options. I would suggest the filters are hidden and only appear when requested so that the first load of these pages show products at the top instead.
When browsing on iPad, some optimisation may be needed as certain features and images do not work or are not displayed correctly.
The product listing pages have quite a large white space placeholder for promotional messaging, which looks a bit odd when empty and isn’t in keeping with the quality design.
The site is great at merchandising key holidays with Easter and Mother’s Day promoted heavily throughout the site. However, there seems to be a glitch as some of Easter products are found in the Birthday Gifts suggestions.
Search, navigation and product selection
A major issue with the previous site was each mega-nav contained an excessive amount of options. The new site provides more streamlined navigation, with items nicely grouped into more general categories, making product discovery quicker and easier.
Hotel Chocolat does a good job of providing detailed product information, including ingredients and product dimensions.
However I spotted a number of UX issues during the ordering process that could lead to disappointed or frustrated shoppers leaving the site.
● Displaying products that are out of stock and not advising they’re not available until you click into the product detail
● Not allowing shoppers to “add to bag” from the product list pages for certain ranges, such as slabs or selectors
● When adding items to the bag via the product listing pages “quick view” the page scrolls back to the very top of the page which can be frustrating when shopping for multibuy promotions as you lose your place halfway down a long list.
● There is no visual way of filtering or viewing “ratings” when browsing product lists. Hotel Chocolat puts a lot of effort into customer feedback on their products so this should be more prominent in product discovery journeys.
The overall navigation and product browsing could be more consistent by using the filters more extensively as some product ranges can only be viewed via following a particular route in the top bar navigation. Some examples include:
● A way to easily group products of certain promotion types such multi-buys for their Ribbon Bags or Selectors ranges.
● In the All Product view, more options on type or product such as slabs, selectors, boxes, etc. would improve product search.
● Having exclusion filters would help. For example being able to select an option to exclude products with “booze”. There is an alcohol-free product grouping but this can only be accessed by finding the right link within the navigation bar.
Check out and delivery
The first time I logged into the new site it instantly recognised my password from the old site. No creating a new one. No clunky process to access my old details. Very nicely done!
Extensive delivery options to suit the convenience of the customer are provided: Delivery for same day/next day, named day, click and collect and international options are all catered for. The "letterbox-friendly" product attribute is particularly helpful in product selection and removes the issue with gift delivery if someone isn’t home to receive a package.
Online shoppers expect to be able to search stock on the site in real time for Click & Collect and this is done well on the site. As expected, there are wide-ranging options for personalised cards and stylish boxes and bags for those whose purchase is a gift.
It’s good to see a guest checkout option is provided on the new site, which will help prevent people dropping out at this stage. However a couple of niggles I have is that it doesn’t allow auto-complete or offer a ‘Find address’ option, both of which would be great timesavers. USP: Club Subscription
The Subscription Economy has been rapidly gaining pace in recent years, with companies such as Netflix and HelloFresh enjoying great success. Interesting Hotel Chocolat was a pioneer of this model, creating a subscription-based Tasting Club in 1999 that now boasts 70,000 members. Construction of the new site meant recruitment efforts for its subscription service were scaled back, however now the new site has been launched there are now a number of areas where you are enticed to look at the Tasting Club.
Somewhat confusingly though, if you happen to be browsing the different boxes available as part of the subscription you land on a product details page with no obvious way of progressing to subscribe.
It’s possible to pause deliveries as often as you want, which allows subscribers to feel they have control, but it’s not clear how you can change the box choice you have made.
Once a member there are some exclusive member-only products. I won't spoil the surprise by sharing what these are, you will have to join to find out! However, I feel Hotel Chocolat is missing a trick by making me browse separate club shop from My Account rather than offering me more personalised content or promotions within the main site.
USP: Gift creator
The ability to create bespoke gift packs and hampers is a really nice idea, but it can be difficult to create a digital experience that doesn’t make the process cumbersome.
A visible Help section and gauge to manage quantity are useful, albeit a little clunky. In my opinion they could be redesigned to take up less space and to only display when required via an action by the customer. Improve page speed - the page loads quite slowly and we see the obvious rendering and content shuffling during load. It would also be good to know how to fill the hamper to its optimum level. For example, I managed to fill it to 96%, but was unsure what products, if any, I could add to bring it to 100%.
Items that are “too large” for my hamper size still display and maybe these should be filtered out.
If the “too large” button is clicked in the quick view the page throws an error. When I click back I seem to have left the hamper functionality completely.
There also seems to be some rendering issues on the page, which I assume is due to an item being listed that this not in stock and causes issues as the “select” button does not display.
The ability to save hampers to retrieve later via a wishlist and to share that wishlist is a nice feature, which I’m loyal customers will love.
Overall I think this feature is well done and just needs some tweaks to give more an experience expected in luxury. This feature should also be promoted a lot more throughout the site, as I could only see it referenced within the navigation bar.
Overall the new digital platform ticks all the boxes in providing a consistent offering to customers who shop in-store and digitally. Some features need further evolving rather than revolutionising and the foundation is there to aid further customer acquisition and retention. The future evolution of some key areas will ensure much longer-term purchase commitments from the chocolate connoisseur customers, bringing an increase in new customer engagement, returning customers and ultimately, revenue.Kevin Murray is managing director of Greenlight Commerce