Forget AO.com, does Benefit Cosmetics offer the best ecommerce experience?

In a previous post I asked the question “Is AO.com the best ecommerce experience online?

In my opinion there are four areas in which the brand excels and that are the foundation of a market-leading online experience.

These are:

  1. Knowing and communicating your unique value proposition.
  2. Being truly, passionately customer centric.
  3. Harnessing social proof to make this central to the purchasing decision.
  4. Embracing the full spectrum of testing and optimisation.

Whenever a website is praised or wins an award, I always check to see what all the fuss is about.

Using these four criteria as a starting point, you can begin to assess whether or not a website can truly deliver the goods.

I am always curious to see who can join the illustrious list of true disrupter brands such as Uber and AirBnb, and as my previous post concluded, AO.com hs joined that list having disrupted the white goods industry.

As such, when I read that Benefit Cosmetics (part of the multi-billion, multinational luxury goods conglomerate LVMH) was recently awarded ‘Best Beauty Brand Online’, I had to check it out for myself and see whether the brand is worthy of the title!

So here goes. Will Benefit join the illustrious list of disruptive brands and cement itself as a trailblazer for the beauty industry? Let’s find out.

1. Knowing and communicating your unique value proposition

Universal header area

Landing on the homepage – or other primary landing pages – I’m extremely surprised to see that Benefit Cosmetics doesn’t dedicate any part of the primary header area to communicate anything tangible about its unique value proposition.

Prime website real estate is just being neglected.

This online crime happens all the time.

Brand X feels like it is big enough, credible enough and well known enough to not need to communicate why visitors should stick around and buy from them and not one of their competitors.

As crowded as the beauty market is, you would think every brand would jump at a chance to communicate their USPs.

It doesn’t matter how big or well-known you are, you should always be providing visitors with reasons to stay.

On primary landing and decision making pages, under the navigation

Just as Benefit doesn’t communicate any form of its unique value proposition in the site-wide header, it doesn’t dedicate any area under or around its primary navigation for communicating what makes the brand and products special.

As I shared in my AO.com critique, we all know about the fact that people need to see things a number of times before it typically “sinks in”.

Never has this been more important for retailers than with your unique value and service proposition messages.

In summary, Benefit Cosmetics is failing to communicate its value proposition clearly on key landing pages.

2. Being truly, passionately customer centric

Providing customer journeys that match different types of buyer behaviour

The two ways to browse products on Benefit Cosmetics are to ‘shop by product’ and ‘shop by dilemma’.

Though ‘shop by dilemma’ is an intriguing concept, only having two initial options to start a product search is limiting.

What about shop by latest releases, shop by most popular, shop by highest rated?

Even with a small product set compared to a retailer like AO.com, visitors will still benefit from being able to browse your range by other ways than just the type or category of product.

Replicating the offline shopping experience

Benefit Cosmetics is doing some really positive things in this area, not least actively encouraging visitors to visit a store.

Often multichannel retailers are almost afraid of promoting their store finder as they want their online visitors to buy online.

Truth is, bridging this gap (and encouraging the multichannel shopper) will in turn help create new customers who have the potential to become brand advocates.

The terminology used in the primary navigation ‘Get Serviced’ followed by the headline ‘Pamper Yourself Pretty’ are excellent examples of using emotive language and speaking directly to the visitor.

Creative and persuasive copywriting is certainly an area that Benefit has prioritised as part of its online user experience and it shows.

Store integration is intrinsic to the online experience.

In the section ‘explore our services’, hovering over any of the services immediately presents you with a ‘Find a Store’ button – this subtle hover state change ensures visitors are drawn to what they want you to do.

Benefit has another whole area dedicated to its customers with the ‘Wow your Brows’ page.

From striking, emotive imagery and humanised language, to video content and specific advice tailored to women’s different styles of eyebrows, this is an extremely (and impressively) customer-centric page.

I can’t help but wonder why it doesn’t promote this specialist area in the universal header!

In addition, it dedicates a whole section of the homepage to helping fix ‘Beauty Dilemmas’.

This once again showcases visually striking images that ooze brand personality (which is consistent throughout the whole site).

In summary, when it comes to being truly, passionately customer centric, Benefit is doing a lot right.

3. Harnessing social proof to make this central to the purchasing decision

Customer satisfaction is one of the first things new visitors are presented with

First-time visitors to AO.com see a prominent customer satisfaction score on the homepage.

When examining Benefit’s homepage, apart from a sub headline ‘What benebabes love most’ (which doesn’t provide you with any way to find out what or who are ‘benebabes’) and some very small hearts, there is a distinct lack of social proof used to demonstrate the popularity and advocacy of the Benefit customer base.

Of course it has the standard social links in the footer, but visitors have absolutely no idea if Benefit has 500 or 500,000 Pinterest followers, or 250 or 250,000 Twitter followers, or 800 or 800,000 Facebook likes.

I will let you guess the numbers behind the brand…

Prominence of reviews

As mentioned, with the miniscule love hearts under product images it’s almost as if Benefit Cosmetics doesn’t want visitors to think about or look at the reviews.

It would be interesting to see if any research was made in this decision.

Not only that, you have no idea whether products have seven or 700 reviews until you get to the product page.

From my experience, I always advise retailers to clearly communicate how many reviews you have for a product prior to visitors going to that product page.

Detailed, intelligent, informative, relevant customer reviews

Whilst the reviews are not prominent on the homepage, once you get on the product page Benefit has an exceptional rating and review system.

It provides both fantastic depth of reviews and also puts the visitor in control of seeing the reviews most relevant to them.

This shows how important Benefit take its customer reviews and the review system should be applauded, but ideally it should look to get this in front of the customer earlier in the journey.

4. Embracing the full spectrum of testing and optimisation

Unlike with AO.com (which is a brand I know truly embraces the full spectrum of optimisation), the very fact that Benefit doesn’t appear to have a testing tool installed says to me that this is one of the biggest opportunities for its next phase of growth.

What do I mean by the full spectrum of testing and optimisation?

Very few businesses embrace the full spectrum of opportunities on offer from A/B, multivariate and personalisation testing.

Typically testing is quick and simple and focused on the low hanging fruit (what we at PRWD call iterative testing).

The biggest business growth opportunity many businesses are missing out on is the impact and growth that innovative and strategic testing can deliver for their business.

In conclusion…

In summary, Benefit Cosmetics is doing some fantastic things with its digital experience to convert visitors into customers.

But as this quick evaluation has highlighted, there are a range of opportunities which can take it to the next level:

  1. Effectively communicating the unique value proposition to differentiate itself in the marketplace.
  2. Utilising the scale and passion of its social communities and customers to better effect.
  3. Most importantly, recognise that full spectrum optimisation represents the biggest growth lever.