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The first time I used WH Smith online was way back in December 1999. I ordered a Madness CD, amongst other things. WH Smith sent them out one at a time, which was great. The only problem was that I received a 'Michael Palin's Ernest Hemingway Adventure' video in place of my Madness CD. How did they manage this? Was somebody playing a joke? I'll never know. I did contact customer services who promptly sent out my Madness CD and allowed me to 'keep' the video - it sits unwatched on my shelf to this day.
I didn't use WH Smith online for another nine months or so; it takes a while to recover from a bad experience like that online. I've ordered a few rare books from them which amazon et al didn't have in stock, and all were dispatched pretty quickly - faster than amazon at least. Sadly, WHSmith suffer from the bane of all online retailers - postage charges! They're actually doing a temporary offer at the moment which offers free postage on orders over £25, and I've taken advantage of this. It ends soon, though.
WHSmith Online actually run quite a few offers, most of which are very good. They range from the amazing 'Buy three DVDs, get the cheapest free', to 'Buy Batteries, Get a Free Torch'. They really put some thought into these offers, and the weekly newsletter isn't plastered with advertisements like some other e-tailers.
The product range at WHSmith Online really is incredible, as you might have noticed with the 'Buy Batteries, Free Torch' offer. They sell Books, CDs, Music, Games, and some more obscure items like Stationery, Batteries, Magazines. Indeed, they even sell trips to the moon - no joke. This comes under their 'adventures' section which offers some incredible things like rally driving and scuba diving. The deals look good, and although I wouldn't buy anything from that section myself, I'd certainly recommend it to my friends as they all seem to be pretty well thought out.
The site itself is quite well laid out and easy on the eyes. The categorical listing system is useless, as is the case with many other e-tailers. As an example, click 'Sci Fi' in the books section, and you get a list of every single Sci Fi book ever published. On Amazon, you'd get the section further broken down with top 20's, interviews and offers - why can't anybody else offer this?
The search function is quite detailed, and the results are always appropriate. It's certainly not as detailed as the Amazon search, but then its not as bad as some of the poorer search systems like Streetsonline. Taking books as an example, you can search by ISBN, Title, Author and Publisher.
Pricing is quite reasonable for books and music. However, if you have to pay delivery on top of the standard prices, they often end up being the same price as the high street - maybe they should consider extending the 'free postage over £25' offer? DVDs and Games (PC in particular) are particularly overpriced, being identical to their instore prices in most cases. I imagine the margins on these items must be very slim, as most e-tailers price these items quite high.
Customer Service at WHSmith earns them an extra star. They actually answer the phone, and always respond to emails politely. Not as fast as Streetsonline, but its nice to actually get a response, unlike certain places I've ordered from. The Customer Service staff seem very friendly and eager to help. I have no complaints about this area of their service.
The actual details section for each product is quite poor. Approximately 50-60% of the products on their site have no descriptions whatsoever, and the review system they have in place seems to be unused; I've only ever come across a couple of reader reviews in all my visits to their site. Oh well, I suppose thats what Ciao is for!
Products are usually dispatched within 12 hours. They arrive fairly quickly, and are always packed well. I've never had anything lost in the post with them, and apart from the incident I mentioned at the start, there have been no problems - I imagine this was because they were just getting started at the time, anyway.
Overall, a fairly decent store. It's one I always check when I'm planning on buying from, and wouldn't hesitate to order from. There are some problems with the site itself, and it doesn't look as polished as places like Amazon, but they look like they have a bright future ahead. This is certainly one of the better attempts at moving a high street outlet online. Well done WHSmith!