Thursday, 31 March 2011

Is moving away from product page standards a good tactic?

I have invested a huge amount of time and tests on our website's product pages in order to optimise it to maximise usability and conversion. However in reality, these pages look very similar to many other product pages. Product image with a buy button to the right, followed by product description, reviews etc. underneath. This is mainly because these are the online standards and crucially, what users expect. It's the same reason why car designers don't move the brake to the right hand side.

I was surprised then to see that Uniqlo.co.uk, the hugely successful fashion retailor, had moved its product pages away from this standard. This is an example of their product page:


The navigation from item price through colour and size selections is intuitive and nicely structured. The add to shopping bag area (it's not a button!) is greyed out, which turns black and becomes active when colour, size and quantity has been selected. 



This is a nice idea; does it work though? The progression down through the options to the add to bag button is natural but being placed far down the screen, and not even looking like a button, is a move quite far away from the web standard. 

I'm very much in favour of innovation and not following norms for norms sake, however websites have moved to standards for a reason - usability. When designing and optimising websites, the questions we have to answer are: what do users know and expect and and what do they need to know? It would be interesting to run behavioural tests on this product page to see how users navigate and find the add to bag button. 

One of the most influential tests that has informed website design revealed the f-shaped pattern for reading web content. Through eye tracking software, this research found that users read web pages in the shape of the letter F. Two horizontal stripes, followed by a vertical stripe:


The middle image above is a product page from an ecommerce website. The red box in the top right hand corner is the add to cart button. If you placed this F pattern over the Uniqlo product page, the chances are that users would miss the add to bag button.

To take the F-shape behaviour further, my own research suggests that users expect to scroll down through a product page in the F-shape and then back up before adding to cart. This is all part of the user's product research and decision making process. To then have to look for the add to cart button or scroll back down the page, like Uniqlo makes you do, isn't particularly usable. This is why add to cart buttons are almost always at the top of the product page.

When you do click add to cart, you stay on the page with a message at the top of the screen that it's in the bag. From here, there's no checkout button, just a link to your bag, which isn't highlighted. Again, there's optimisation work for Uniqlo here that could improve its conversion.



I don't know what Uniqlo's website conversion is like, so it's difficult to make judgements, however my recommendation would be to revisit its product pages and add to cart button, include a checkout button and revert back to standards - they're called standards for a reason.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Dynamic logo design

Following on from my post about why I like the London 2012 Olympics logo, I read this article about the new MIT Media Lab's brilliant new logo design. It outlines why the new design is so clever, and a large part of this is down to its dynamism.

The London Olympics logo has the same concept in mind and this is the reason why I like it so much. It can easily change and adapt while maintaining brand identity, with MIT having different variations of its logo in mind for different people in its lab. Check out the designs below and what FastCodeDesign.com says about dynamism:

“dynamism” is a embryonic concept in identity design nowadays, with a few brave souls like Comedy Central and the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art testing the waters. See it at the Media Lab, though, and you know it’s the future.



Monday, 14 March 2011

What can online learn from Hollister stores?

In a previous post, I wrote about three things high street stores could learn from ecommerce websites. What I didn't explain was that in the early days, online borrowed heavily from the stores and I think there are things that websites can still learn from them.

One store that sticks out in my mind above others is Hollister, the US fashion brand from the same people that brought us Abercrombie & Fitch.

I first came across Hollister when I saw a queue outside their shop in the Westfield Centre in Shepherds Bush, London. The only queues I had ever seen outside any shop were at the Next January sale, Waterstones on the night one of the new Harry Potter books was published and HMV when Ocean Colour Scene did an in-store signing. How I wish it was 1995 again. I couldn't believe people (young people) would queue up outside a store when there was no sale or special guests signing CDs.

I had the opportunity to visit a Hollister store recently, without queueing, so I went in to understand what the fuss was all about. I was immediately greeted by his 'n' her models, him wearing nothing but shorts and her wearing a bikini. Bearing in mind this was February in New York and -9 outside, you'll begin to appreciate what type of brand experience Hollister stores create. Not surprisingly, Hollister is aimed at teenagers as a laid-back Californian surf and beach lifestyle brand. Their stores are reminiscent of a surf shack and take on a casual and reasonably informal vibe.

Inside, the store was pretty dark and I became engulfed by a sweet smell, which was pumped throughout the two levels I visited. Everyone that worked in the store appeared to be the most attractive person in New York City. Behind my wife of course. And me. I walked past pretty girl after handsome guy and each one, clad in Hollister branded clothing, smiled and asked me how I was doing.

In the store are lounge chairs that don't match and large green plants that bring the outside in. The store itself felt quite cramped with low ceilings and not much space in the aisles. This meant that regardless of how many people were in there, it always looked busy. 

It's clear that the company has put a huge amount of thought into creating a unique experience for its customers. A visit to Hollister certainly is an experience and I can now appreciate why teenagers want to wear the brand and queue up outside its stores. So what can online learn from Hollister?

Hollister has created a level of exclusivity for the company. You're not just buying a t-shirt, you are buying into that exclusive club. Making customers queue up and operating a one-in-one-out policy furthers the exclusivity and interest and makes for a wonderful, free marketing tactic.

How many people walk past a queue without asking what the people are queuing for? I did when I first walked past the Hollister queue. Many shops use January sales queues as a PR opportunity, building it up as an event in itself. Next and Harrods do this every year. Hollister has taken this once-in-a-year opportunity and turned it into a once-every-Saturday event.

In many ways, some websites have used this concept and translated it for the web. Voyage Prive and Cocosa are examples of websites that only allow registered members to view their deals and offers, which are time limited. In truth, its quite easy to register on these sites for free, however not only does this give these new websites an instant opportunity to build a database of e-mail addresses, it generates this feeling of exclusivity.

Can other ecommerce stores translate this feeling of exclusivity elsewhere? Frequent flyer schemes have managed to do this by offering membership benefits that aren't afforded to people outside of the club. Membership sections and benefits for repeat customers can easily become a part of a website's strategy to begin creating this feeling of exclusivity.

The experience that Hollister creates in its stores is difficult to simulate online, however not impossible.

The online industry has invested a huge amount of resources researching how visitors interact with websites. This has made them easier to use and much more intuitive. This means we've got largely standardised ecommerce sites so that visitors know exactly what to do once they first arrive. Nothing is left to chance.

What this means is that little thought is given to creating something memorable and unique for the people who come to visit. Think about the last time you visited an ecommerce website and came away with these feelings? There is an opportunity to translate Hollister's in-store experience online and deliver something memorable for visitors and this has to be a challenge for brands. 

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Why I like the 2012 London Olympics logo



Among all the euphoria that flowed from winning the right and honour of hosting the 2012 Olympic Games, it was the one thing that brought the country crashing down to earth with a bump.

Launched in June 2007 and designed by Wolff Olins at a cost of £400,000, the logo was greeted with derision and embarrassment from press and public alike. The recent claims by the head of Iran's National Olympic Committee that the logo spells out the word 'Zion' and was therefore a subtle, pro-Israel emblem, has provided further criticism and pushed it firmly back into the spotlight.

After launch, the general consensus was that the logo was nothing more than art school standard, lacking any real imagination or flair. When put into context with previous Olympics logos, the design is very different and goes against the standard. Neon colours, white Olympic rings and no emblem to associate the games with the host country. It's no surprise then that the recently launched Rio 2016 logo is a return to form.


However amidst all the criticism, I am going to stand up for the logo. I like it.

I think it's a very clever design that has achieved its brief, which was to create a different and exciting logo that reaches out to young people, defines London as a city, Great Britain as a country and the Olympic Committee as an Organisation.

Perhaps this emphasis on youth was the instigator for the media backlash and in some ways is affirming the success of the design. However, successful branding should appeal to more than one demographic. Even more so for an Olympic Games that the British Public is ostensibly paying for.

One of the main reasons why I like it is its versatility. From a purely marketing point of view, it has enabled the Games' partners, like EDF Energy and Lloyds TSB, to use it with their own branding, while retaining its identity as the Olympic logo.


There aren't many brands that can achieve this and certainly the designs from Sydney, Athens, Beijing and Rio would find it difficult to incorporate sponsor's branding. I can almost sense the collective sighs at the thought of me backing multinationals highjacking an amateur sports event's logo to boost their profile. Is there nothing left that's sacred?

The reality is that sponsorship is a necessity for staging global events. The London 2012 Organising Committee will receive an estimated 40% of its operating budget from this sponsorship. This reduces the pressure on the Government's resources and provides opportunities for the Committee to claw back some of the costs of running the Games.

What's also important with the logo is that it has got people talking; a huge amount of column inches have been dedicated to it, providing it with the perfect launch. Everyone knows what it looks like and everyone has an opinion on it. And that's what's important.

It has instantly provided the London Olympics with a recognisable symbol and something to associate with the Games. If we're being honest, how many of us remembered any of the previous logos for the Olympic Games? I don't even remember the logo for South African Football World Cup and that was barely six months ago. I'll remember the 2012 Olympics logo for some time to come.

I actually think that if people are questioned about the logo again, almost four years after it was first revealed, most opinions will have softened. Time is a great healer. Coupled with this, the Iranian ire has enabled the British public to do what it does best; stand up for itself in the face of adversity. These comments have switched focus from attacking our own to supporting it and with the games a little over 500 days away, this will only amplify as excitement builds. 

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

3 things high street stores can learn from their online cousins

In a previous post, I wrote about how bookstores are closing down and that competition from online and supermarkets had squeezed the market. It's not just bookstores that are closing down either. Across Britain, town centre vacancy rates rose to 14.5% at the end of 2010, up almost 10% on 2008. There are myriad reasons for this, including businesses running on credit for too long and a store rental system that massively favours landlords; however one factor that has resulted in a permanent cultural shift, is the move to buying online.

Britain leads the way when it comes to ecommerce in Europe, with online representing 10% of UK total sales. So what can high street stores learn from online? I've listed three ideas below that could be adopted by physical stores and whereas they won't alter any shift to online they should improve the customer experience and the shop's chances of survival.

Tell me what I want, what I really, really want
One of the things that online does really well is that it offers you the personal touch. Most stores know who returning customers are and what they've bought before and so they tailor content and related products that best suit their interests and tastes. This enables online to effortlessly up-sell and cross-sell, tempting us to buy more.

Online we're individuals and we're treated to a personal and highly enriched experience. However as soon as you walk through the front door of a shop you're just a face in the crowd, presented with the same static products that everyone else sees. But that needn't be the case.

Stores will strategically place products in aisles or sections of the shop that they know sell well together. The tea is generally in the same aisle as the biscuits, for example. However I don't think they go far enough.

How many times have you gone to buy some shoes in a department store and been presented with suggestions for jeans or a handbag that will go well with them? Small flat-screen TVs with footage of models wearing clothes or accessories that go well with the items I'm looking at would encourage me to shop further. How many times have you picked up some flour at a supermarket and next to it seen a leaflet for a kick-ass cake recipe that demands you buy eggs, sugar, chocolate etc.? Not many in my experience and these are all lost opportunities.

Capturing customer data
Cos, the exceptional older brother (with a higher disposable income of H&M) is the only shop I have been in that has asked me for my e-mail address. As I waited for the store assistant to bag up my extremely tasteful shirt, I wrote my name and e-mail address on a card. It took me less than a minute. They now send me regular updates and special offers, including invites to events where they launch sale items to people on their list before the general public.

Why don't all stores do this?

They do! What about the Nectar card and Boots Advantage card?

Okay, so maybe the trend of storing customer data started offline, however in my experience it's not caught on. Other than the sign up at Cos and the leaflets for loyalty cards, I have not come across one example of a store asking me for data so that they can keep in touch.

I would also push for the supermarkets and even Boots to simplify their sign up, lock you in quickly and easily in-store and then hit you online for more information. At home and online is the point where you have more time and are happy to fill out an application form. It would also be less labour intensive as systems would capture your data, rather than requiring people to input it into a system.

Dynamic changes
Ecommerce is continuing to grow thanks in part to its dynamism and ability to make changes on the fly. Data can be analysed and changes made on the same day with results monitored to understand their effect. This has resulted in new products and different ways of presenting them, new ways of paying and the ability to implement offers and promotions at the click of a mouse. Physical stores can't be as dynamic. But why?

Shops often work to seasons and plan in advance for promotions and sales. In-store advertising and displays are difficult to change and managers have to maintain consistency across different stores. So what can be dynamic in a shop? I think it comes down to people.

Store assistants are the most intelligent and flexible resources available to managers and they can be empowered to act and behave in a more dynamic way. This happens to some extent in stores that have salespeople working on a commission basis. They can give away a percentage of their commission in order to secure a sale. Would this work across all stores? Maybe managers can create promotions or discounts that they pass down to store assistants who can then give them out to customers at their own discretion, rather than advertising them widely?

There are many other things that I've not included here but also many things that online can learn from high street stores. I think the thing to always hold in mind is that although different, on and offline strategies can be interchangeable and consistency among the two is paramount.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

The modernisation of publishing and the challenges it brings

This week it was announced that Borders is preparing to go into administration, which comes all too soon after the HMV group announced a number of Waterstones branches would be closing. The now familiar story of online competition and increased sales at supermarkets have squeezed the retail market and this time, the bookstore is the fall guy.

Not long before Borders' announcement, The Bookseller reported that the e-reader market doubled over Christmas 2010 and that quite astonishingly, 13% of British adults now own an eBook reading device.

The growth of the mainstream eBook market took off at the same time and shows no signs of stopping. Amazon sells more eBooks than print, as does our very own PacktPub.com, with our 2010 digital sales up 33% on the previous year. The launch of the iPad and Amazon's aggressive marketing and pricing strategy of its Kindle gave e-reader adoption the kind of kickstart few earlier adopters had the power to achieve.

It's relatively easy to re-read the above paragraph and for every mention of e-reader and eBook substitute iPod and and music download. For Amazon use iTunes. The two stories are very similar. Back in 2006, US music downloads had increased by 77% on the previous year, while Apple sold 88 iPods a minute.

What the publishing industry is going through currently, the music industry has already experienced and this shift to electronic and death of the bookstore is evidence of the modernisation of publishing.

Surely great news for publishers?

Unfortunately for the music industry the digital revolution hasn't all been great. CD sales continue to plummet and aren't being propped up by download sales. Writing in The Guardian, Dan Sabbagh notes that while music is thriving, the industry itself is dying and makes the following observation:

"It has been a decade since piracy and the arrival of iTunes – which destroyed the notion of an album in favour of single, downloadable tracks – but the music business has found nothing to repair lost CD sales." 

This one sentence neatly sums up a key problem in the industry and how the introduction of digital changed the way that we consumed music. Luckily for publishing, breaking up a book and selling it chapter-by-chapter isn't as viable. Despite this the move to electronic book delivery presents publishing with other challenges.

Universal eBook pricing
Amazon has set the price for the majority of its eBooks at $9.99, a move many publishers were unhappy with. Amazon relented, however this price point has stuck and Apple are now using it as a standard on its iBookstore. Whereas this may make sense for your top ten bestseller list it doesn't take into account the specialised books from the independent publishers, who price up the cost based on fewer sales expectations and the niche element of the market.

Self publishing cutting out the publisher
Not a week goes by without the story of an author making it as a self-publisher. In fact, I only read this morning on the always excellent Econsultancy.com of the threat to publishers that amateur authors pose. The article references Alice Hocking and her success with self-publishing. I felt compelled to comment and note that for every Amanda Hocking there's a million and one self-published authors with under 100 sales to their name. Self-publishing website Lulu.com would probably back this up.

In reality, the majority of these self-published success stories have had a profile and fan base before going it alone. Hocking may be an exception to this. When Radiohead self-released In Rainbows in 2007 people said it would open up amateurs bands and musicians to bypassing record labels and breaking the charts. As amateurs have no existing fan base and no means to reach the masses, this hasn't happened.

It's also easy to underestimate the other services that publishers provide; it's not just about getting a book to market and exploiting contacts. Whereas most authors can take on marketing, it's the professional editing, proofreading, layout and other production services that would be beyond most, especially those without prior publishing experience.

Delivering multi-platform content
First there was slate, then paper, then muuuuch later eBook, then browser, then app - what next? Wikipedia suggests that there are 18 different eBook formats! There are so many ways to consume content now that it's difficult for some publishers to stay relevant. Staying ahead of the adoption curve and delivering content to demand is a serious challenge for publishers. eBook formats will narrow with two or three becoming dominant, however the innovations with consuming content will continue.

Piracy
The music industry knows all about this. So does Hollywood. As eBook adoption grows, so will piracy and this is something that all publishers are nervous about. It's actually affecting us now with torrents full and links regularly showing up in search results. There are companies developing software to combat the pirates who are serving the eBooks and seeding the links. Publishers need to work closer with these companies to help develop and refine the software; this is a common problem and should be tackled by the industry together.

Developing a direct sales model
Whether through subscription or consumers buying individual copies from their website, this is the holy grail for publishers. Bypassing bookstores and Amazon enables publishers to talk to the people who are buying their books and ultimately, get them to buy more. The problems is that this isn't something publishers have prioritised in the past.

However eBooks present a new opportunity.

There is no printing and shipping, which makes logistics and set up easier and cheaper. Through their website, fulfillment can be immediate with the publisher catching customer data. More importantly publishers aren't giving up a percentage of sales to a third party retailer. With bookstores closing and sales moving online, now is the perfect time for publishers to start doing it themselves.

Despite the demise of the bookstore this is an exciting time for publishing and the opportunities for publishers