By Tom Deutsch, VP Creative Services at InteractOne
Visual Merchandising is not a new term among retailers. Have you seen an episode of PBS’s Mr. Selfridge? Based in the early 1900’s, the show spends a lot of air time showcasing Selfridge’s cutting edge merchandising innovations.
In today’s retail world, visual merchandising still plays a critical role in overall sales. Trained merchandisers (the folks “behind the curtain” strategically placing items and watching how customers shop) have product placement down to a science.
Retail merchandisers focus on store themes, overall coherence, interior design, lighting, store layout, displays, colors, and that’s just the physical part. There are scores of people also trained in the Psychology of retail shopping.
For example, watch this quick video interviewing Ken Nisch, a retail design expert on his store design with North Face.
The take-away here is that there are trained and experienced people designing and strategically planning the beautiful stimulating brick and mortar stores. Why are we not actively applying their methods to our eCommerce stores?
In the eCommerce world, merchandising has largely been ignored.
Lost somewhere between early innovators of the first decade out to reinvent the world of business and the initial reluctance of many old-school retailers to embrace online selling, merchandising fell to the wayside.
For a lot of online retailers the defacto merchandisers are marketers, designers, and product planners. This leads to haphazard product presentation and grouping for the simple elements of a promotion, not to mention an annoying chore arising out of Magento’s “related products” feature.
E-tailers who utilize merchandising professionals benefit from a shift away from the practical and toward the strategic.
With eMerchandising, merchants move beyond standard A/B testing and analytic research to increase conversion rate optimization. Not that there’s anything wrong with A/B testing and analytic research, but most retailers don’t have optimized processes in place, nor do they have the amount of traffic needed to take a purely data-driven approach to product planning and store design.
Site analytics can tell you a tremendous amount, but they can’t make decisions.
The “human” element, as applied by a merchandising professional, does not simply rely on intuition, opinion or habit. Instead of only relying on analytics, merchandisers will consider product mix, customer profiles, competitive pricing and customer behavior- on a strategic level – in making tactical decisions about design and user interface (UI). Those merchandising decisions can then be tested and optimized for a much higher conversion rate.
The Customer Connection
In the gradual process of business maturation and rediscovering merchandising, eCommerce has brought the practice closer to the customer. Forward thinking eCommerce merchandising includes creative, in-depth content, easy to navigate pages and inventive interactive customer interaction through videos and state of the art photography.
Magento merchants especially have a strong merchandising advantage built in the platform’s uber-flexible product categories, attributes and configurable products. Time to put them to use!
By Tom Deutsch, VP Creative Services at InteractOne
As if being in the relatively brand-new field of eCommerce weren’t enough of a “brave new world” for retail businesses, the rise of mobile has left us all scrambling to keep up and stay relevant.
Responsive eCommerce has charged to the forefront in the last couple years as the dominant approach to present full content and capability to customers anytime, anywhere. The reality of having one site and one database to administer, plus the powerful stamp of approval Google has given to the technology, has launched a thousand well-intentioned responsive theme installations. Unfortunately, these rapid adoptions of responsive means a lot of merchants are walking barefoot along the cutting edge.
The problem is, responsive has forced a change in the way we build websites, but not yet in how we conceive, design or manage them.
Sure, there are opinions and assertions about mobile-first design, which is a start, but the business case for re-tooling design and development of responsive eCommerce has been largely ignored. We all need to be talking and thinking about design in a different way. We need to stop planning our eCommerce sites the way we plan our living rooms: “this matches that” and “such and such looks nice over here.”
Modular design begins to approach a solution. The problem is that every element in modular design is nothing but a smaller page. And do we really want our sites looking like a bunch of multi-colored post-it notes or a stack of pancakes? Too often, using the “modular” approach has resulted in mediocrity – at least from a design and UX perspective.
Where do we go from here?
We’re all obviously managing to order socks and sunglasses, auto parts and movies from our desktops, tablets, phones and phablets. But there is no debating that “we all” (meaning everyone from the merchant to the designer to the platform and theme developers) still have a lot to learn about how to conceive, design, build and serve responsive (or adaptive) eCommerce sites.
Expectations have to be adjusted – not only with the fudging that goes on between mockups and code, but also regarding the flexibility of displayed elements. Changes that would have been relatively simple on a non-responsive site, like moving a button “just a bit to the right or left” of another element, will provoke a symphony of sighs, hems and haws from a front-end responsive programmer. It seems so simple, but when you look at how responsive code treats design elements – percentages and grids vs pixel measurements – the dilemma clears up.
Planning is Paramount
So how do you plan a responsive site … um … responsibly? The days of showing a developer a couple of flat-file designs or your “brand assets guide” are gone. Building a responsive Magento site, for instance, requires earlier and much more extensive wire-framing and collaboration among the business requirement folks, the design team and especially the front- and back-end developers. Clean code is more important than ever and yet hacking – as a shortcut – is more tempting than ever.
Neglect the planning and end up with a slow, expensive website you can’t update.
Designers need to understand how their specifications will translate into code, and the peculiarities of the platform or theme they are using. They can’t do that in a vacuum and it won’t happen during one or two meetings. Responsive first, yes. Second, move quickly to mapping out the UX and the likely pathways to that ideal experience, making sure your design has a natural place for each of these steps, on every device. Third: the details are more important than ever – consistency in font choice and use, isolation areas and insets are some of the most neglected and most important responsive design guidelines you have.
Responsive and adaptive design, as we know it today, is still in relative infancy. The platforms and themes will improve. The designers will innovate. The developers will streamline. The enormous cross-browser issues will come to a head and resolve somehow. We’ve definitely not arrived at responsive Nirvana yet, and getting there should be a blast.
Building an eCommerce website in Magento can seem simple. The basic software and an array of attractive templates are available for free. What could go wrong? In addition, there are no shortage of freelance designers that assume that because they can create a custom design and piece together code that they can put together a savvy Magento presence. A developer who has devised a quick-fix to a small problem to the site, may unknowingly cause other problems that can cause the whole site to cascade into disarray.
Why those Unfinished and Abandoned Magento Site Designs happen
Magento is a powerful, but very complex software tool, development and integration cannot be left to chance. A number of Magento users came to interactOne because the site they had started to build hasn’t been finished or simply doesn’t work- for any number of reasons. As a long-time Magento Certified Partner, InteractOne has the experience and technical know-how to diagnose and repair problems with your unfinished and abandoned Magento site design, navigation, database, code, search engine visibility, or third-party extensions. We have worked with all types of Magento code manipulations and have been able to successfully complete projects that were left in varying states of disrepair.
Does this sound familiar?
“We paid a developer thousands of dollars to develop our eCommerce site. Months later, it’s not completed and we can no longer reach them.”
“Our Magento site is complete, but no one on our staff knows how to manage the site.”
“The site build-out has been completed, but we have no idea how to migrate our data from the old site to the new one.”
“Our Magento site design will not work and many components are missing.”
Other situations that may be a cause for your site to sit idle is that a one-time employee who was your eCommerce site leader is no longer with your organization. Transition of any type can be stressful for any organization, furthering the issue is the fact that your internet sales are contingent upon a smooth transition forward. InteractOne can partner with your team to conduct in-depth training for your new and existing team members to ensure that your organization continues to receive the full benefit of your Magento eCommerce site. Training can take place in person, online/webinar or correspondence.
Let interactOne’s Experience get Your Site Back on Track
Regardless of what caused your Magento eCommerce site to go idle, InteractOne’s experienced team of developers can come alongside your company and get you back on track! Let’s get your unfinished and abandoned Magento site design back on track!