Asda demonstrates poor use of custom 404 pages, presents disparate set of web sites
I have been meaning to carry out some quality checks on well known and popular web sites for a while but I wasn’t quite prepared for just how easy this exercise would turn out to be, especially when looking at the use of custom 404 pages.
Practically one of the first web sites I had a look at was Asda, don’t ask me why – my thought process went retail -> supermarkets -> Asda -> Bingo!
Custom 404 Pages
Just to recap on what custom 404 pages are before I launch into the detail, I wrote an article back in August on why sites should have custom 404 pages. I put forward points that the 404 page should contain a helpful message, links back to the home page or to a sitemap, be designed within the web site’s own styling so you know you are on the correct site and above all, be helpful to the user so they can find their way if they are lost.
Having a well thought out custom 404 page shows that the company behind the web site has considered the user and what happens if they stumble across a broken or incorrect link. The user doesn’t want to hit a page not found error but, if they do, a good 404 page is well worth a bit of extra effort in my view.
Imagine then when one of the first web sites that I checked did not have a good 404 page. In fact, I was sent to a nasty server default 404 page, no nice message, no helpful links, no site branding or styling, nothing. That web site was www.asda.co.uk and, for those who aren’t aware, they are a major UK supermarket and owned by Wal-Mart.
Once I had recovered my composure, I started to look through the rest of Asda’s web sites (they have quite a few) to see whether any of them had what I would call a proper 404 page instead of one that just exclaims:
The requested URL
It took a little while to go through all of Asda’s separate web sites (all those that reside on a different domain name), as there are 25 of them in total. Or at least 25 that I could find, for all I know there are more hidden away in a forgotten corner of the Asda online empire. There are several that I did find that look like they’ve been forgotten about, at least in a 404 sense.
No 404 Page
The Asda sites listed below did not have a custom 404 page, just the default one that is of practically no use to a lost user at all.
Asda – www.asda.co.uk
Asda Entertainment – www.asda-entertainment.co.uk
Asda Contact Lenses – www.asda-contactlenses.co.uk
Asda Pharmacy – www.asda-pharmacy.co.uk (update – the Asda Pharmacy website is no longer active and just sends the visitor to a 404 error page).
Asda Flowers – www.asda-flowers.co.uk
Asda Free From – www.asda-freefrom.co.uk (update – the Asda Freeform website is no longer active and just sends the visitor to a Bad request error page).
Asda Kids – www.asda-thebinks.co.uk
Asda Kwik Cricket – www.asda-kwikcricket.co.uk
Asda Business Rewards – www.asdabusinessrewards.com
So that is 9 web sites out of a total of 25 that do not have a proper 404 page. Or 36% of Asda’s web sites if you like percentages.
Redirects To Home Page
The next set of web sites redirect the user to the home page instead of presenting a 404 page. This is better than the horrible default page not found error page but is still not the ideal outcome in my opinion. As a user I would prefer to understand that the link I clicked on is not working, that I could report it or contact someone about it if I wanted to and then continue on my way rather than be shoved back to the home page and most likely go through the same process again.
These Asda web sites redirected me to the home page when I tried to go to a page that was not found:
That accounts for another 5 of the 25 Asda web sites, or 20%. We have now covered 14 Asda web sites, which means that the remaining 11 sites all have excellent 404 pages, right? Wrong.
Custom 404 Pages
From Asda’s large network of web sites, we are now down to the final 11 web sites from the original set of 25 that actually have custom 404 pages in place. If your expectation is that these pages are going to be great examples of how 404 pages should be done all I can do is say sorry. Let’s take the worst of them first and work our way to the best and finish on a positive note.
1. Asda Book Club (www.asda-bookclub.co.uk)
This web site looks a little neglected, in the browser I tested with (FF3.5) it has an issue in the main navigation that I assume should say 2009 books but actually displays 0 books (it is to the right of 2008 books). None of the months within that section show any information at all.
The 404 pages displays code out onto the screen where a user would expect to see a helpful error message and so is obviously broken. I would prefer to see a redirect to the home page rather than an obviously broken 404 page.
2. Your Asda (your.asda.com)
The Your Asda web site aims to offer inside information on what goes on in Asda, information about their policies and how they source their products plus webcams and blogs.
The 404 page shows a big ‘Sorry’ heading with a large white space underneath it. At first I thought that was a little strange to not include an error message and just have this huge white space with nothing in it but then realised that there was text after all, however, the text was the same colour as the background and so invisible to a user!
Perhaps this is a special ninja 404 page that goes undercover in the Asda organisation, as it does crop up in our next example too.
To add insult to injury, the invisible error message tells you that you can access the home page with the standard ‘click here’ text but then provides you with no link. Has anybody checked this 404 page do you think?
3. Asda The Green Room (greenroom.asda.com)
The Green Room web site is a bit like Your Asda but is for Asda employees to find out what is going on within the Asda organisation.
However, it suffers from the same undercover 404 page that has the invisible error message. Perhaps this page is meant for search engines from the late 1990s by producing text the same colour as the background in the hope that search engines will index the content that users cannot see.
4. Asda Phones (www.asda-phones.co.uk)
We are into site 4 from the list of 11 Asda sites that actually have 404 pages, we are about to hit a good one aren’t we? Wrong, sorry to dash your hopes yet again.
The Asda Phones web site does have a custom 404 page but it appears to be broken with the navigation showing as separate buttons running down the left and the error message floating just below and to the right of these buttons.
So you can reach other sections and get back to the home page but the error page looks as though it has an error, which does not give the user the best impression.
5. Asda Magazine (www.asdamagazine.com)
This is the 19th Asda site and finally a 404 page that is not too bad. The user is presented with a fairly basic message telling them that the page that are trying to reach does not exist and why that might be, all fine so far. The next sentence is a little puzzling, as it puts to the user that they may wish to try searching the site or using the site map to find what they are looking for. Sound advice, the strange bit is that there is no link to the site map and no obvious link for a site map anywhere on the page.
Whilst the user is not directed to the search is it quite hard to miss being at the top of the page and quite big. The main navigation is present too so it is fairly easy to decide where to move onto.
I actually used the search to try and find the site map but searching for ‘site map’ or ‘sitemap’ yielded no results.
6. Asda Groceries Online (groceries.asda.com)
This 404 page is fairly good in that the message is fairly helpful, if a little long-winded and the tone of the message is a helpful one. They give you a link back to the home page plus a customer service number to call if you need help. Finally there are some footer links including a link for ‘Ask Amy’, which pops Amy up in a new window and allows you to type in questions for Amy to match your question with an answer from her bank of similar questions. Without going into too much detail, I quickly typed, ‘I’m lost’ and got 3 links including instructions on how to get back to the ASDA.com home page and how to get back to the Asda Groceries home page.
One thing I didn’t like about this 404 page is that you lose the main navigation and so no longer feel as though you are ‘within’ the Asda Groceries web site.
Also, I managed to break the Asda Groceries web site and got it to present the horrible Apache Tomcat default server 404 page depending on where in the directory structure I mis-typed the page URL.
7. Asda Jobs (www.asda.jobs)
The Asda Jobs web site has a perfectly good 404 page, a helpful message with a link to the sitemap, main sections links including an FAQ and a Contact Us link plus the main navigation and footer links are kept so you remain ‘within’ the web site rather than spun off to a cold outhouse of a 404 page like the Asda Groceries site.
8. George Jobs (www.george.jobs)
The George Jobs web site has practically the same 404 page as the Asda Jobs site but in George styling and so, again, is a perfectly good example of how 404 pages can be. If only the other previous 19 web sites could have this already in place.
9. Asda Direct (direct.asda.com)
Now into the top 3 Asda sites, the Asda Direct 404 page is another good example and a helpful error page in that the user is offered links to many of the Asda Direct product categories including Furniture, Toys and Electricals plus sub-categories within those main sections. Further links are presented to other Asda web sites and to round the page off there is a full set of footer links including a contact us link.
10. Asda Gifts (www.asda-gifts.co.uk)
The Asda Gifts 404 page gives you a short message, a link to a customer services email address to report the error plus a link to the home page. This is all set within the main navigation and site template so you can easily find the help, sitemap, search, contact us, FAQs, etc. or indeed many of the related Asda web sites such as ASDA.com and Asda Direct.
What I also liked about this 404 page was the presentation of gift categories with images that you might like to browse to plus a search by price feature. That really gives the user an easy next step, as they can see the categories presented for them or use the search by price facility. This is not the dead end that many of the Asda 404 pages (or lack of 404 pages) seem to offer.
11. Asda Finance (www.asdafinance.com)
The best of the bunch, my number 1 performing Asda web site when it comes to a user friendly 404 page. The Asda Finance web site gives you a short error message, links to all the main sections and is set within the web site’s main navigation and so offers easy access to the site map, help and contat us pages.
I liked the simple and clear layout of the page and also a box that neatly explains if the problem persists then they will do all they can to help with a link to the contact us page. To me that shows that Asda Finance care that little bit more. To round it offer there is a sign up for the newsletter box, which just might grab a couple of extra signups because of the clear and helpful 404 page, something that perhaps may be apparent in the newsletter.
We ended on a high, I genuinely thought the last 5 or 6 sites had decent 404 pages.
However, those Asda web sites that either did not have a proper 404 page or redirected to the home page or in some unbelievable cases had broken and error strewn error pages need to be sorted out, as I think that they are poor quality and ultimately providing their users with a poor experience.
404 pages may seem like such a small area of a huge web site but this brief study has really opened my eyes to how major UK retailers can get small and simple aspects of their sites really wrong. If an easy to put together 404 page is difficult then what about the tricky sections of a web site to get right such as the checkout process or payment integration or delivery of groceries to my door.
What do you think about Asda’s lack of 404 pages? Do you expect better quality sites from major retailers or are poor 404 pages acceptable?