We've created Zuko, our next-generation form analytics platform. Explore Zuko Explore Zuko > Hide Message

Big Brand Teardown: Play.com’s Online Checkout Fails On Mobile

Big Brand Teardown

Tis the season of shopping, so let’s head online for another ecommerce-themed big brand teardown.

Someone here at Formisimo, let’s call him Al, recently went on his phone to buy from Play.com. The experience caused some pretty vocal reactions and not in a good way.

Mobile devices are now responsible for 30% of traffic to ecommerce sites and 15% of sales. Given the trend toward mobile, I thought I’d review Play.com’s mobile experience.

Separate Mobile Site VS One Site

Play.com have a separate mobile site that displays different content to the main desktop version. This is particularly noticeable right now due to seasonal content and promotions that appear on the main site but not the mobile one. In my opinion, although a mobile site renders well on smaller devices, it shouldn’t deliver different content or effectively offers from mobile users; strike one against the mobile experience.


Play.com Homepage with scrolling banner of Christmas themed offers


Play.com homepage on mobile

 (You’d think it was summer looking at this homepage)

Although mobile shoppers miss out on discounts and deals, the mobile site itself is fairly pleasant. Big buttons make for easy navigation and there’s no fast rotating banner as there is on the main site.

Play.com Voted Best For Mobile In 2010

Econsultancy reviewed Play.com’s mobile experience in 2010. They concluded that it was actually pretty terrible back then too. The interesting thing about Econsultancy’s article is that it was prompted by Play.com being awarded the top spot in The eDigital Research M-commerce Benchmark’s consumer survey. Yes, it was voted the best site for shopping on mobile, by consumers no less.

How could this be when, at that time, Play.com was not optimised for mobile at all?  Its popularity amongst consumers could be explained by visitors feeling more familiar with the site. You could use this as an argument for deploying a single site that optimises for all devices using responsive design rather than separate sites.

If it is true that consumers marked Play.com well because it looked exactly the same on mobile as on desktop then creating a mobile site was a mistake.

Checking Out Before The Checkout

Finding products is easy enough, as is adding an item to your basket. The trouble starts when you proceed to checkout.

Play.com requires all shoppers to have an account in order to buy. We’ve spoken several times about the ‘login wall’, as this is called, and the difficulty it presents to shoppers.

Play.com sign in page

As it happens, I had forgotten my password so had to be redirected in order to reset it. Three frustrating things happened:

  1. I had to enter my email address again.
  2. The email address field didn’t tell my phone what keyboard to display but did drop dot com in without me noticing, causing me to enter it a second time and then have to delete it.
  3. I had to complete a CAPTCHA.
Play.com reset password page

CAPTCHAs are usually bad enough but this one is even less user friendly or accessible than usual. There’s no option to choose a different image if you find this one too hard and there’s no option to hear the characters in the image read out. It’s a shame that Play.com hasn’t implemented one of the many effective alternatives to CAPTCHAs.

If I had instead created an account from scratch I would have been similarly plagued. Although there are only two questions, they’re each repeated, making four fields to fill in. The ‘Continue’ button isn’t visible and some of the copy at the top is also cut off.

Play.com registration form

The site continues to break as I proceed through entering my address, card details and all the other guff. This is the trouble with not optimising your checkout for mobile.

Button broken:

Find Address button squashed

Creating Too Much Work For Users

When adding an address or a card, Play.com ask for a ‘Description’. This is a required field without which you can’t continue but there’s no guidance on what sort of description is required. With regards to addresses this could be confused with a description of your home, conceivably to help delivery personnel find your property. In fact, adding a description means giving the address or card a name e.g. Home or Joint Account. If anyone has to stop and think about what ‘Description’ means then you’ve slowed or even stopped the buying process.

Play.com address form on mobile

That this is a required field is more than mildly annoying- I just want to buy my minion mug.

Play.com redeems itself to a small degree when it refrains from asking for card type which, as we know, can be determined from the long number.

Bye Bye Play.com

Play.com’s history is a story of meteoric success followed by downward spiral and now imminent closure.

In 2006 Play.com drew 6% of cyber shopping visits from UK users, with only Amazon and Argos doing better. But since 2009, the site has suffered, mainly due to an unsustainable business model. Rakuten, Play.com’s owner, intend to close down the site in early 2015. This will be replaced by Rakuten.co.uk (which is already operating).

So does this mean that the mobile experience will improve? Well I’ve tested Rakuten.co.uk and was pleased with some features, such as a guest checkout and fewer required fields. However the site itself still isn’t 100% optimised for mobile.

Rakuten.co.uk have a single site for desktop and mobile (maintaing familiarity across platforms). Rakuten, on the other hand, have one site. On mobile the homepage condenses slightly, replacing long lists of links with shorter ones, smaller carousels etc.

However, when you reach a product page the call to action is pushed right to the bottom of a long page.


Rakuten.co.uk prodcut page


Rakuten.co.uk product page on mobile

Final Thoughts

Play.com is a great example of why having separate mobile and desktop sites, or even one site that isn’t optimised for mobile, is going to cause problems for shoppers.

A mobile-first approach seems to give the best of both worlds. Content and design are the same on any device, maintaining familiarity, whilst also adapting to the limitations of your device to keep it easy to navigate.

For more information on adapting for mobile traffic read How To Optimise Your Checkout For Mobile.