Reed Elsevier : Doing business poorly

Potential customers are given the wrong word about products and services.

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The feature

Reed Elsevier, Anglo-Dutch information products and services provider, gives poor initial guidance to potential customers.

Reed Elsevier’s group site has six main sections including Our business, which sits between About us and Investor centre in the primary horizontal navigation bar (the other sections are Media centre, Corporate Responsibility, Our people). On mouseover, the Our business heading reveals a five-item menu for areas such as Scientific, Medical & Technical and Exhibitions. On click, each leads to a dedicated landing page with a general introduction that incorporates an expanded left-hand menu showing an alphabetically ordered set of titles. These lead to individual overviews of a product/service and onward links to dedicated information and websites. The titles menu also appears on mouseover of an area within the initial dropdown (Exhibition etc).

On the home page a tabbed carousel display is presented under the heading ‘Browse our featured services’, but is not visible on a standard screen unless the page is scrolled.

The takeaway

For all that its business is about specialist information, Reed Elsevier does a poor job of communicating quickly to potential subscribers where they can find out about its products and services or find one for which they may be looking. The problem, in a word (two, actually), is the choice of heading for this content: while there is an extensive and browsable directory of products and services, the fact is disguised by the use of the term ‘Our business’ as the navigational heading for it. In the context of a primary bar otherwise made up of standard corporate sections (and a universal header bar showing the latest share price), ‘Our business’ is more likely to be interpreted as concerning organisational structure and management. Its initial sub-menu reinforces that impression, while the positioning of the ‘Solutions’ carousel below the scroll line on the home page neutralises its effectiveness as an alternative quick route to product and service information.

The point here is not that potential subscribers will be unable to find the information, but that they will have to work unnecessarily longer to do so than they would wish – or is in the company’s interest. A simple change of heading to make more explicit the content (‘Our products & services’ would do the job, and is familiar) is all that’s required. It would also mitigate the poor location of the ‘Solutions’ browser, albeit that needs rethinking if it is to realise its full value.
First published 20 March, 2014
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