I saw today an article on econsultancy about a relaunch of a womans clothing site called Whistles.co.uk. Given I don't buy many woman's clothes I may be way off the mark commenting on this but my sense is that they have done something very clever perhaps for the first time.
I think they have created a pleasurable browsing experience and combined this with ease of purchasing. What's unique about that you might ask? Surely there are lots of good ecommerce sites that look nice aren't there? Well; No! Actually I don't think there are. It has been a problem that has always exercised my mind and I think a lot of it has to do with understanding that the way we shop for computer parts or objects which we don't attach to our body is very different from the way we shop for those that we do.
What is the ideal way to choose clothes? To try them on your own body, you get the size, the feel and the look in front of a mirror. What's bad about that though? people waiting around crowded changing areas, lots of changing rooms, for some too much fuss. What's the second best way? Projection + Practicality. You see a model with the clothes on and think damm that looks good if I buy that I will look good too, next thought is what size am I once you know that you can buy.
It's worthy of note that some guys don't even project before they buy, clothes can be purchased purely on the basis of practicality rather than as any form of self expression. Also of note is that a lot of people using flash to develop web sites that are capable of an ecommerce element have tended to be more practical types. So what I think is different is that ecommerce has finally figured out its strong card.
That is when I go into a store there is only so much wall space for pictures of models. In fact probably less than 5% of the clothes in a typical store are represented by models in posters displayed at that same retail outlet. Whereas on a flash web site there is potentially an unlimited amount of space so 100% of the clothes I want to buy can be modeled. The success of clothes by mail order was driven by this, they figured out that projection as well as practicality was key to generating intent to purchase so most lines were modeled and pictured.
The new flash technology is taking this further. Now I am not saying the web site is the height of usability. Simply that it has a nice balance, it is pleasurable to browse around and this allows me to start the projection of what clothes might look like in aesthetically pleasing surroundings. This type of experience is a marked change from browsing in a more functional layout which typifies most ecommerce sites in this sector and in general. Yet under the hood is the power to quickly switch my mind from projection to functional "what sizes are there available?" mode and back again with minimum hassle.
Thinking also of the success of zappos I think part of it at least was down to the fact that they focused on shoes first. A shoe has a definite form, you can browse it comfortably in a functional environment because you know the shape it will be on your body is the same as the picture. A flat picture of a pair of jeans does not do that you need to see what it looks like on a model what is the cut like in real life to get the same projection going in your mind.
In short whistles doesn't hurt my head and that can only be a good thing hopefully they will launch a menswear range soon.