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Online Retail Details

Hello Everyone! In my last post, I discussed the many creative opportunities available to brick and mortar shops. Yes, there are unique perks enjoyed by tactile retail but there are an equal number of distinct creative avenues that only online shops can explore. Brick and mortar retail must contend with limitless variables like traffic, weather, issues with neighbourhoods/neighbours, creating physical displays, landlords, security and so forth. Online stores are not without challenges but they do have the distinct advantage of deciding exactly what the customer sees. Unlike a physical storefront, online retail has complete control over aesthetics via styling, photography, layout, interface design, typography and many other elements. Yep, completely art directed retail is a rather incredible and rare creative opportunity!

There is real magic in visiting a brick and mortar shop where one can enjoy tangible products, tactile interiors and a sense of community. They have the advantage of stimulating all five senses and creating personalized experiences. Online stores, with just the sense of sight available, must work hard to craft an instantly absorbing world. Done right, a sense of community and striking design can be created and flourish. An online shop can be a place people love to visit for fantastic products, personality and true creativity.

It feels like now more than ever, online retailers are realizing how vital great design is to being successful. Notice how often “curated” seems to be popping up? Great photography leads the charge but so do the millions of little details that one can customize and make memorable. I hope to expand on these “online retail details” in the future but for now, I thought I would showcase a few that have caught my eye. There are limitations to online shops but so many creative advantages that are begging for exploration. Let’s ponder! – Chloé / plenty of colour

To me, the most important part of an online shop is how it opens. If you don’t grab attention immediately, chances are the customer will lose interest rapidly. Great photography and art direction is key. Some of the most effective photo series involve the products in use whether by models or in well-styled vignettes. One large photograph works well (like Leif) or several sliding images (like Poketo) or the using of many products in a striking grid (like Douglas + Bec).

A brick and mortar shop has the benefit of human interaction and creating a sense of community. I think online shops can achieve this by creating a blog. I love how Room 6 updates regularly to highlight personal events, new products to the shop and stunning photos of Deep Cove (where the shop is located). Present & Correct runs a wonderful design blog that highlights their aesthetic and draws in customers. You might not be able to speak to customers as they enter your physical store but with a blog, you have a voice and your shop does too.

Instagram grows daily as a tool for all kinds of retail. I love how The Cross updates Instagram several times a day to highlight new products and in-store displays (and all in a beautifully editorial way). This idea works for online shops too as new products are unboxed and interesting shopkeeping duties occur. Building excitement for items and creating a connection to customers is a fantastic benefit of Instagram (as well as eye-catching photography!)

Apple has not created a five-sense computer yet (seriously, where is the smell-o-vision when I visit food blogs?) but I have noticed more online shops trying to infuse their site with more than the visual. Urban Outfitters UK has a curated music selection that one can listen to when shopping. I love this idea as it can reflect your entire brand essence and craft a true retail experience. Just make sure the music doesn’t start automatically (we’ve all felt that pain).

The shopping cart is an area of online design I feel needs a perk up. There are great icons out there that go beyond the obvious template and make clicking “add to cart” memorable. A simple piece of type in the upper right corner, I love this uniquely minimalistic pop of colour from Field.

Who says one has to use a cart? Shopping bags featuring branding seem to be ignored but when put into use, are fabulously effective. Bloomingdale’s uses their iconic little brown bag (and use that term throughout the site) while Adidas has a simple but great bag highlighting their famous stripes.

Speaking of small but mighty details, I love how Westbeach denotes currencies.

The main pages of Etsy shops are rigid in their templated appearance and use rather small pictures of products so the top rectangle bar makes a major impression on customers. It instantly individualizes your shop from others so fill this space with strong, eye-catching design that speaks to your brand. I love this handsome banner by Perch Paper Co.

Highlighting colour ways is often ignored by shops but is a wonderful tool for an effective opening page. I also love when specific product pages provide imagery of all colour options together and create seamless navigation for viewing each hue available (thumbnails are effective). J Crew and Roztayger do both well.

How products are photographed and the alternate views made available is a topic in itself. I find there are many product types that could benefit from being showcased in more dynamic ways. Books are a good example because so many online shops use just the flat cover. I think stores need to show a side view of the book’s depth as well as a few interior shots. Both Mr. Porter and Anthropologie do this swimmingly via many view options and large images. Online customers cannot utilize the tactile quality of shopping in a physical store so unique angles and close-up details make all the difference (more on that in a future post).

I love the unique way Supermarket Sarah styles all of her products together in one image. The visitor can hover over each piece to see if it is available and then click to go straight to the purchase page. It feels like you are standing in a physical shop staring at a display, don’t you think?

The dreaded 404 Error page. We have all landed on a million of them. Particularly with the advent of Pinterest where specific pages are saved but might not be available, I suggest taking advantage and making them fun, attractive and cohesive pieces of brand. The best ones suggest when the user goes next so momentum is focused less on frustration and more on finding something great.

Another standard? The closed or not open yet page. Often just quick text, I love when a shop makes it unique. How cute is the label on the box above? Even if you aren’t ready to open shop, something memorable will make sure you are bookmarked for future visits.

Online retail details are a huge topic I hope to expand upon as there are so many examples of great design and innovative thinking. Templated online stores are effective from a simple transaction point of view but with attention to small but mighty details, a shop can turn into a unique corner of the web with mindful navigation, striking design and its own style voice. Building ways to create community and inspire with great art direction will have customers returning time and time again. Until next time, I am off to “research” more online shops… – Chloé / plenty of colour

*side note: this post marks my one year anniversary writing here. A massive thank you to Rena for giving me a place to ramble endlessly about all things shop design (and being rather patient when I delay uploading so yet another image can be added). She is a retail and community building guru and I feel so fortunate to share a corner of the web with her and all of you. More to come!

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  1. […] my latest post for Rena Tom, I explore the details that turn online retail from good to great. While lacking the […]

  2. Gabriel says:

    Love this! So many good tips. Great eye miss Chloe :)

  3. Sue says:

    Excellent post! What a difference clever staging and attention to detail makes.

    Congratulations Chloe’ on your one year anniversary with Rena Tom. I always look forward to your postings!

  4. Angie says:

    What a great and thorough article, Rena! Thanks for including us in this also!

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