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On why online should be less like offline

June 14, 2011

(Image creds to the very funny Tim Whyatt)

A lot of what I’ve been doing recently revolves around retail websites.  In particular retail websites for clothing companies.

There’s been a few articles recently (through the always interesting econsultancy), about how websites should take more learnings from physical shops to help conversion and also about how physical shop layouts should also be taken into account

I still find it odd that these examples are being drawn from the physical realm.  How the online conventions are still being informed by the offline way of doing things.

On the one hand I can fully appreciate that using examples of how retail shops work on the high street is a useful analogy to demonstrate that these elements are not working as hard as they could on websites.

But while there are superficial similarities there are also significant differences.  For example is the home page really the shop window? Surely that is the results page on the search engine – enticing you into their store.

The homepage is more akin to when you first walk into the shop.  You want to see where it is you want to go to, to navigate to it, without being assailed by too much information or lack of signposting; a store directory.

The article also states With the average retail conversion rate around 3%, 97% of visitors never buy anything”.  My issue with this is that it assumes that every visitor to your website is there to shop, rather than simply browsing or gathering more information.

I’d argue that websites, especially fashion websites, allow you to window shop in a way that simply wouldn’t be acceptable in the real world.  What store is going to let you walk in, spending hours looking around, pulling all the things you like in your size off the shelf, storing them in basket under the till and and then walk out saying ‘I might come back for those later’.  Online gives people a safer environment to look around without pressure.

Maybe I’m just influenced by the amount of work that I do on mail order, but websites aren’t really online versions of the high street.  There’s an element of browsing, flicking through, time wasting, and indulging an interest that feels more akin to catalogue shopping.

Maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to draw comparisons to the bricks and mortar world.

Maybe talking about online shops this way is similar to how I don’t think things like the Kindle have reached where they could be yet.

They are being held back by trying to be the best possible online adaptation of an offline format.  Maybe instead we need to let them evolve into what they want to be instead.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 15, 2011 8:27 am

    I did some work on the retail website for a fashion brand a few years back and their (my) big issue was – how do we replicate the ‘Storegasm’ online? How can we re-create the feel-good buzz of finding the piece that fits perfectly and is absolutely right for you?

    With hindsight, I think the Retailwebsitegasm is probably ten times more complex…

    • June 16, 2011 7:56 am

      Definitely – and not there yet. I have a hunch that when they finally hit on it, it won’t replicate the offline buzz. Maybe it’s time to stop thinking about how to make websites more like physical stores and instead work out what they can do that a physical store never could. Add value that way to create the retailwebsitegasm (awesome coining by the way 😉 )

  2. August 13, 2017 7:47 am

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