We always think it’s worth drawing attention to businesses who are using internet technologies and online platforms in remarkable ways. By checking them out, you can only learn – and perhaps even build on their ideas.
Recently, I visited Your Move website on my iPod: it’s an aggregate site bringing together many estate agents’ data in one place. The site, detecting that I was on a mobile device, asked if I’d like to download the app – for free – and, out of curiosity, I did so.
Now, the building of apps is not going to suit every business, but it is perfect for those, like estate agents, where the user is likely to come back again and again before they complete a task. Your Move’s canny developers have clearly thought through exactly what it is the average housebuyer needs and provided it on a plate.
Enter the postcode of the area you’d like to search in, and filter the results by a number of bedrooms, price, etc, and you are served a list of the latest properties. If you see one you like, you can flick through an image gallery, save it, and even send a request to the estate agents to receive more details. It’s basically all the functionality you get on the main website, but compacted handily to fit onto your pocket device.
The result? Well, I may only be window shopping these days, but when the time comes to start house-hunting in earnest, I’ll turn first to the app that’s already right there on my iPod – and that is the sort of return a business wants from an investment like this.
When a website does everything right, you find yourself wanting to tell others about it. That’s just what I’ve been doing recently with the online garden store Crocus.co.uk.
Great websites are the ones where you hardly notice the user experience because everything’s so easy. Crocus really has this cracked.
I’m a gardening novice, so the vast product list ought to be bewildering. Crocus steps up to the mark with some user-friendly filters. Just select the type of soil, or orientation of the bed, or season of flowering, or height of plant… you name it, you can filter by it.
Once you’ve put items into your basket – or rather, wheelbarrow – checkout is easy, too. For me, this is always the crucial test of a well-thought-out website. I’m giving you my money – make it easy for me!
So far, so good, but it’s when Crocus goes the extra mile that you really know you’re in good hands. I mentioned I was a novice gardener, so I’m really looking forward to the promised follow-up emails that are going to tell me when I need to tend to the plants I bought. It’s a very clever way of both keeping the brand name uppermost in my mind, and allowing me access to the vast amounts of knowledge Crocus have – with no inconvenience to myself.
Add to all this some excellent design, and I’m hooked (my first batch of plants is safely in the ground, and I’m itching to make another order). Large images make the site really appealing, and the photo galleries, showing close-ups as well as the plants in context, come into their own when you are trying to make decisions about whether or not to buy.
Hard to believe that at the bottom, this is just a nursery, like scores of others. With careful application of best online practice, they’ve become market leaders on the web, and are presumably enjoying the dividends.
Whatever your business, you’ll find something to learn from Crocus. After all, wouldn’t you like people to be talking about your website the way I am telling friends, family, and now you, about this one?
Habitat, the UK furniture store, has never been at the forefront of online technologies. Take their website, for example, it may look impressive on the first view, but you can’t order from it, nor it doesn’t showcase every product they have for sale. Primary amongst its failings, in my opinion, is the way that offerings are divided by room: living room, kitchen, bedroom, etc. Fine if you’re after, say, a bread bin, but where do I start if I want a rug, a lampshade or some shelves?
To be fair, the site does also offer a search facility, but the classification of a site is a major consideration and I’ve always thought that this fundamental failing is a sign that Habitat’s web marketing team may not be quite the best that money can buy (hey, Sir Terence Conran, with your knowledge of design, I’d have expected you to know that web design is as much about ease of use as it is about looks).
My misgivings were given another boost this week when Habitat briefly made a major error in the Twittersphere. Clearly, someone in marketing thought it was about time Habitat started reaping the benefits that a twitter stream can bring – so far, so good. Indeed, I can imagine many design and shopping aficionados – myself included – quite willingly signing up to find out when the next sale will be or when a stunning new product has come on offer.
But Twitter, though seemingly simple, can be a bewildering place for the ‘newbie’. Unfortunately, Habitat’s people had understood the concept of a ‘hashtag’ (ie, putting a keyword with a # symbol next to it; users can ‘subscribe’ to – or search on – specific hashtags so they will see every tweet thus labeled) but not quite how to use it. For example, what they could have tweeted was:
Habitat launches its new spring collection! #furniture #habitat #design
That way, anyone especially interested in furniture, design, or Habitat itself, would have got the message. Instead, they put out several messages along the lines of:
HabitatUK Our totally desirable Spring collection #iPhone
HabitatUK Our totally desirable Spring collection #poh
HabitatUK Our totally desirable Spring collection #Apple
As I type this, I can only think that the person who was ill-advisedly put in charge of the twitterstream was a young work-experience person who assured everyone that he’d heard a great way to get maximum exposure… because, of course, pushing your message in front of people who want to hear tweets about, say the election in Iran, or Madeleine McCann (two more examples of the hashtags they used before the story started spreading and the tweets were taken down), is not going to go down at all well. Indeed, some would call it spam – and many did.
You see, one of the great things about Twitter and all social media networks is also one of its biggest potential pitfalls: word spreads quickly. There’s nothing a seasoned tweeter likes more than to jump on a big brand and point out its failures, and this (small, possibly excusable – depending on whom you listen to) error caused mirth and reportage right across the blogosphere and onto the mainstream press.
A smaller misdemeanour, and one that hasn’t been as widely picked up on, is that of course if you were to actually subscribe to the Habitat twitter stream (as opposed to one of the hashtags it misused) you wouldn’t be best pleased to have the same message repeated to you multiple times, only with differing hashtags.
The moral of this story is: if you are not confident that you know how to manage your social media output, hand it over to the experts… which we modestly like to believe that we are. We can offer a full advisory service on Twitter and all other social media platforms, so do contact us if you wish to avoid the public ridicule of the Habitat kind.
We booked a break at the woodland holiday camp Centerparcs recently. Now, as someone who works in online marketing, I tend to notice when it’s done well, and I must say that Centerparcs has one of the best online booking experiences I have ever encountered. It’s not perfect, but then again I am not sure I have ever encountered a complex retail website that could be called completely perfect.
Part of what surprises me is that Centerparcs predates the internet, so all their online booking functionalities must have been conceived long after the company was already up and running. Having said that, they’ve had perhaps a decade to refine and improve their websites, and it seems to me that there’s someone doing some very smart thinking there.
What is so impressive about Centerparcs’ website? In brief:
1. It’s ease of use. Its homepage offers a ‘quick availability search’ for those who know what they are looking for, but there is also in-depth information about locations and offerings for those who aren’t familiar with the product.
2. It funnels the user towards a purchase. No matter what page you are on, you will always see the green button inviting you to ‘book now’. There’s no ambiguity about how or where to book; no onus on the user to find the application form.
3. It uses special offers to create a sense of urgency. Visit the site at different times and the prices on display will fluctuate too. This is a good psychological trick – when you see a low price, you want to book for fear you won’t see it again – but also indicates that they have the flexibility to respond to low forward bookings by means of reducing prices at short notice.
4. It upsells: once you click on that ‘book now’ button, you’re invited to purchase a number of additional options, including the choice of a cabin nearer the center of the park; a crate of groceries to be waiting for you; bike hire, and so on. Miraculously, this isn’t done in a hectoring or bothersome way: somehow they strike the right tone in making you think, ‘Oh why not, we’re treating ourselves, after all….’.
5. Once you have booked, they send you regular emails asking if you have booked all the activities you may wish to participate in. This provides a useful service for the customer – because it’s true, some activities do get booked out – but also, of course, allows Centerparcs to keep itself fresh in your mind and urge you to spend more. Importantly, though, these emails are not spaced so closely together that they become annoying or spammy.
There’s one thing I think Centerparcs could have done a little better. There’s another clever marketing ploy they have, which is that if you rebook within 28 days of your break, you are guaranteed to get the lowest price, plus a voucher to spend in the shops while you’re there. To make my experience absolutely perfect, I’d be impressed if when I revisited their site, it picked up my cookie and recognized that I qualified for this special offer, only showing me the lowest price. I guess it’s easy to talk about these things, and not always as easy to implement.
White Stuff, the high-street clothing store, has a very good website and online strategy. I visited for the first time because I liked their clothes, and I stuck around – subscribing to their newsletter; paying several repeat visits, and crucially, making purchases – because I like their online level of service.
As a marketing person, I’m often very aware of quite how I’m being marketed to, and how successful it is. Send me newsletters too frequently? I hit that unsubscribe button faster than you can say ‘lost customer’. Take me to a website with flakey navigation and no security at checkout? I’ll take my custom elsewhere.
White Stuff has recently added a feature which has placed them even higher in my regard: customer reviews. It’s not a new concept: it’s one that Amazon has made us all familiar with – but there’s no harm in copying your strategy from the best, and I think we’d all agree that Amazon has got most things nailed in the world of online retailing.
From now on, customers can record their opinions of the clothes they’ve bought. This has the obvious advantage for the customer: a personal opinion, even if it’s from someone you’ve never met, can often be more helpful than marketing blurb. Consider, also, the advantages for White Stuff:
Now, clearly, we also have to be aware that there is a potential downside. Suppose you get some poor reviews in there: would you simply delete them and allow only the glowing recommendations to stand? Tempting, but inadvisable.
In the age of social media, customers demand transparency above all else. It’d soon get out if someone attempted to upload a negative review, only to find it wasn’t displaying. For the customer reviewing strategy to work, you have to have faith in your product, and in the fact that the vast majority of reviews will always be positive. In this context, a few unsatisfied reviews won’t do you any harm at all: and, in fact, you will learn from them. If customer after customer tells White Stuff, for example, that they love their fabrics but their skirts are too short, that’s a useful lesson for them – the kind of finding that they might otherwise have conducted pricey focus groups to discover.
The addition of user reviews to the White Stuff website tells me two things: that they have belief in what they are offering, and that they are prepared to listen to their customers. With a strategy like that, they are most certainly on the right track.
Website design: it’s a fine art these days. You can study it at degree level. There are awards for it. The man on the street has opinions about it – and we all pretty much agree what makes a good website design, and what doesn’t.
Hmmm. Looking at the Havenworks website, it seems just possible that there’s one small corner of the world where the niceties of web design have not yet been fully thrashed out. White space, for example, these days, many of the websites we visit most often – Google, Flickr, Facebook – recognize that blank space is just as important as text. It’s restful; it allows the user to concentrate on what really matters (in the case of Google, that means the search box, of course).
Then there’s ease of navigation. The very best websites let you navigate through their pages and hardly realize you are doing so. The moment you have to stop and think or search for the link you need is the moment the navigation has scored – in the modern online parlance – a big, fat fail.
Web designers seem to be coming, en masse, towards the conclusion that Less is More. Havenworks is a great indictment of this, showing quite clearly that the opposite is also true: More is Less. Indeed, More is Utterly Confusing.
The question is, with so many talented web designers around, why would you publish out a site that looks like this? I can’t say I know, but I do notice that there is a little wink after the site’s name in the top browser bar. Might it be that the site’s owner knows exactly what he is doing? Think of it this way: I’ve just written a blog post and linked back to the site: one valuable inbound link for him. You’re reading this and maybe you’ll be amused enough to pass the link on to a friend. One more visitor to the site. It’s just possible that this is a complex ploy.
On the other hand, I don’t think many visitors would stay long, nor would they return, so from that point of view, there’s little to gain. I’ll leave it up to you to decide what you think – but meanwhile, let me just mention that if your own site is looking a little more Havenworks than you’d prefer, we can help. From off-the-peg templates to bespoke designs, we have a number of website design solutions that will get you linked to for all the right reasons.
This is an old, and wise, Arabic saying.
But do we like change? Facebook recently underwent an overhaul, bringing about a torrent of dismay from many of its users. An online group was started – Petition Against the “New Facebook” – which to date has 1,748,123 members. (And guess where the organizers chose to form the group? Yes, got it in one, Facebook.)
Not exactly a matter of life and death but when we have got used to something, we don’t like to see it change. We are creatures of habit and change means readjustment – which can be unsettling and, to some extent, upsetting. It could also mean re-education – how frightening is that??
However, Rosanne Cash, singer, and songwriter, got it right when she said: “The key to change… is to let go of fear.”
You may have noticed that we have recently redesigned our website.
It wasn’t easy to deconstruct a site that had grown so much over some years and then reconstruct in a way that would be pleasing to all. Let’s face it, you are not going to please everyone all of the time. However, a change shouldn’t happen for change sake. There has to be an end purpose.
Posing the question to Fari Peyman, MD of Notting Hill Web Design, ‘What were the reasons for changing the website?’, he replied:
“We wanted to make it visually more pleasing, yet also increasing the contents of the site and making the navigation easier. We now have a platform to add more to the site and are going to work on the site’s accessibility improving the user experience.”
During this financially difficult time everyone should be taking stock of tools they have at their disposal to aid their business and a company’s online presence is one of them. Food for thought…
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