Archive for April 2006

Seek and ye shall not find

With so many good examples of site search to follow these days, it’s quite surprising to come across search functionality that is truly awful. It’s especially surprising when it’s Debenhams, a big company with a good reputation that clearly invests a lot of money in their online presence.

Consider a simple task, like the one I was trying to carry out – trying to find a new blind for my office. I knew that Debenhams sell things for homes, but didn’t know whether they sold blinds or not. On the Debenhams home page, the first thing that strikes you about the home page is an extremely unsubtle hint that they’re having a sale. I think people will just about get the message there. The second thing, especially if you’re looking for a blind, is that there is no search.

Debenhams home page, with no search

Blinds should be in Home and Furniture, so at least there’s a sensible navigation option for me to follow. There’s nothing too obvious on the Home and Furniture page, but a search box has appeared, so it makes sense to just type “blind”.

Debenhams Home & Furniture page

Hang on, though – what’s this? Light pink sleeveless tie back jersey top? Yellow broderie anglais frill bikini halter neck top? Not exactly the sort of search results I’d expect to get from a search for ‘blind’. In fact, as far as I can tell, there is absolutely no mention of blind – or any products vaguely related to blinds – anywhere in the first page of results.

Debenhams useless search results page

It turns out (as far as I can tell) that if you type in any non-fashion item (e.g. spoon, sofa), the results presented are always in the context of one of Debenham’s departments – usually the women’s or men’s clothing departments. This seems bizarre in the extreme, especially when the results seem to be completely unrelated to the search term. You have to select the “home and furniture” results to find a venetian blind in the results. And even then “Leather 3 seat sofa” appears before it!

There seem to be at least three quite elementary lessons for Debenhams to learn here:


I'm Stuart Church, a user experience consultant with Pure Usability in Bristol, UK. Sensorydrive is my personal blog and covers user experience design, information architecture, product design, psychology, research methods, perception and pretty much anything else that takes my fancy! You can find out a bit more about me if you want...