A visit to Philips' website confirms what recent product launches have hinted. Royal Philips Electronics seems to have dramatically refocused its marketing strategy around its consumers, as illustrated by its "sense and simplicity" positioning.
Beyond a global splash page displaying the back of a mother and her child, the US website is a clean portal combining Flash animations with traditional html. The result is aesthetically appealing and combines all the needs and constraints of a corporate website very effectively.
In terms of usability, the navigation bar can be found at the top, offering to redirect the visitor to the main divisions of the Dutch giant: consumer products, lighting, medical systems and semiconductors. It also includes a pull-down of alternative languages/countries as well as a search engine. Besides numerous links, the homepage also displays a marketing poll (with the display of the results) and the stock price.
The heart of the homepage is targeted at the consumer. It provides pictures and announcements of new products, some of which vary as the browser reloads.
Philips online brochure is logically organized and packed with information. In terms of usability, it may seem overcrowded and confusing compared with Amazon or Victoria's Secret, for example. If the visitor decides to purchase a product (and it seems that 69 percent do), the frustration index is likely to jump off the charts. Perhaps Philips tried to avoid competing head-to-head with its distribution channels, but as a result, the buying experience is far from "one-click shopping." When surfing for a TV set, prices or a buy-it button were not displayed. A great 17-inch widescreen flat TV convinces you to dive into your wallet? Be ready for a cat-and-mouse game: The way to the checkout is hidden behind a fine print hyperlink called "Find an online store."
The next page does not bring you closer to a shopping basket, as the visitor/customer faces a "Define Search Criteria" form. The first field requests a "model number," which would be an instant turn-off for those who don't have the patience to notice that the bottom half is pre-filled with the parameters of the chosen 17-inch widescreen flat TV. Is the search engine going to lead to a shopping basket? Nope!
The search engine lists 21 online stores. (Alternatively, it would have been possible to select brick-and-mortar retail stores.) The first choice in the list is… "Philips Online Store" followed by other prominent and less known e-shops such as Amazon.com, CDW, and Circuit City. A click on the CDW or Amazon links leads to only the Philips products that those stores offer. The Philips Online Store (actually "Philips Electronics Store") does not display the selected TV set either. It opens on its home page for the browsing and search to start again.
We could not find the selected flat TV in either the Amazon.com or the CDW catalogs. In the Philips Electronics Store, we navigated through five pages before reaching the 17-inch widescreen flat TV. By then, it didn't look so great anymore, particularly next to its price tag. A click on the picture reminded us of the reason we selected it: an integrated FM-tuner. A click on the back button unfortunately leads to "Warning: Page has Expired… click the Refresh button." Although some buyers, perhaps with the help of a discount, will eventually reach the shopping cart and close the sale, the purchasing process is rather discouraging.
Overall, the initial excitement and positive impression got reduced to nil once the decision was made to actually purchase something. Philips brand positioning seems to be right on target. But the execution does not deliver the promised "sense and simplicity" at every contact point with the customer.