Back when it snowed above my head and I walked to school three miles barefoot everyday, Web sites were Web sites. They were a special breed of communications. We even capitalized the word Web site. As Creative Director at Discovery.com, we had our content sites, our corporate sites and our store – all separate experiences. Does that still fly? Can Web sites be designed as destinations or are they a part of a more complex customer journey?
The biggest names in ecommerce are Amazon, Zappos, Nordstroms, you know, stores. Meanwhile some of the most interesting brands are embracing stories as part of the value they deliver to their customers and advocates. Just compare Patagonia with Amazon. One weaves lifestyle content around the product and store experience. The other is seen as the ultimate in transaction design. Amazon does have content. It’s product reviews, book samples, and machine-generated utilities like “people who looked at this, bought this.”
Patagonia has actual stories. All are relevant to sport and the outdoors. Many feature people. Yet you could argue they divert people from transaction. Does that make for a better ecommerce experience or a diluted one? If the storefront is judged as an isolated destination one might argue that the content distracts. If you consider it as part of a journey, having expert content is a plus.
Content Can Strengthen Commerce
No doubt, Amazon is the pinnacle of storefronts. They are held up as the gold standard for ecommerce. Still, they are like the final stop along the journey. When you know what you want, you go to Amazon. After we “showroom” (visit anyone’s terrestrial store), we go to Amazon to select the best rated, get a more transparent price and have the product delivered.
Amazon’s brand is all about easy selection and transaction. Patagonia is all about a rich, sports experience with mother nature. As more and more brands sell direct (even if they are also carried in the Amazon or Walmart superstores), blending content and story with commerce will be key to sustaining profitable, high-value relationships with their customers.
Patagonia’s front page sells stories as much as product.
Navigation takes you to content and product.
Experts recruited by Patagonia share their outdoor sport experience.
You are never far from the well-organized “racks” of actual product.
Other sites combining content and commerce:
Lauren Indvik from Mashable sums up, “Arriving at Mr Porter, a high-end men's retail site connected to online luxury retailer Net-a-Porter, feels more like opening a magazine spread than entering an online shopping destination. That's no accident. The site is edited by former British Esquire editor Jeremy Langmead, who works alongside other veterans in the magazine and retail industries.”
One Kings Lane, one of my new favorites as I try to outfit a new house, injects some magazine style into its flash sales.
Lauren again, “One Kings Lane launched in 2009 as a flash sales site for upscale home furnishings. At the beginning of the year, the company acquired design firm Helicopter, best known for launching Domino magazine.”
Adobe’s CMO.com delivers content outside their store. They want to deliver value earlier in the customer journey (marketing executives). As Shopify points out in its blog, “Adobe’s CMO.com curates content from all around the web – things that have been especially selected to help Chief Marketing Officers navigate the changing advertising world. Adobe selects content from over 150 top news sites and organizations, as well as creating their own. It also doesn’t pitch its software programs or web-based solutions to the audience.”
Birchbox became trendy as the source for monthly boxes of goodies, and now features a series of magazines for men and women to share lifestyle content. Here’s how they describe themselves, “Each month, you'll receive a selection of samples that we’ve tried (and retried) ourselves. We source our samples from both well-known brands and emerging gems. The women’s subscription includes everything from skincare to makeup, as well as fun non-beauty extras. The men’s subscription delivers top-tier grooming products in addition to lifestyle accessories ranging from hip socks to tech accessories.”