On my first ever visit to New York City, I was hanging out in Chelsea, and I was trying to pick up a nice, high-quality, affordable jacket. I saw one I really liked in the window of a store, so I went in, and I had a retail experience I will never forget.
The first sign that I was in a luxury store (and way out of my price range) began at the door – that is to say, the doorman opened the door for me. Thanks! What a nice guy. After that, I noticed the beautifully designed space. The exceptionally awesome-looking clothes weren’t fighting for space on over-cramped shelves; they were free to breathe, to look the way they were meant to look. The lighting was perfect: bright to showcase their products, but not glaring to someone walking around. The employees weren’t pushy, but were helpful when you needed them – one attendant directed me towards the jacket I’d noticed in the window. She found me the right size, and, while looking into an excellently framed 10-foot-tall mirror, we agreed: it looked awesome.
I didn’t buy that jacket, but I did know from the moment I set foot in the store that this was not just any regular place (or any regular jacket, for that matter). There was an emphasis on product, on design, and on beauty – a place where price is communicated without being conspicuously displayed. In short, my visit to this shop was a customer experience that communicated luxury, and your website can do the same.
Luxury Brands: they can afford not to sell
Navigating a high-fashion luxury brand’s site isn’t all that easy if you actually want to buy something. It’s almost as if they’re not interested in selling their wares – but that’s only partly true. Instead, a lot of other considerations come to the fore, and the end result might be a customer experience that people would gladly pay a premium for. On luxury sites, the most important design factors are:
- visibility of product
- culture, branding, image
- amazing visuals and aesthetic pleasure
- little to no focus on selling
Burberry: a classic example of luxury
All of this holds true of Burberry’s homepage. Allegedly it’s also their online storefront, but there are no prices, no 50% off sales, and there’s hardly any text at all. Instead, the biggest image is announcing their new perfume.
Click on the Burberry Body image, and it takes you to another product page showing three variations of the product, where gentle piano music is playing in the background, and you’re given the options to “Explore” and “Shop” – and guess which one is shown first?
Instead of focusing on selling, Burberry focuses on creating a compelling experience around incredible products, and it’s hard not to be dazzled by the quality of the photography, the charms of their models, and the quality of their merchandise.
Luxury sites vs. flash sales sites
But if Burberry is like an online fashion show, then popular online fashion flash sales sites are more like an auction house. Sites like Gilt, Fab, and Beyond the Rack are hyper-focused on these four traits:
- communicating that time is scarce
- product, brand and category discovery
- converting: price, availability, ‘add to cart.’
In other words, it’s pushing people to make sales as quickly as possible, as frequently as possible, from as many product categories as possible. Compare that to Burberry’s site, which sort of has a store, but it’s not obvious even when you’re in it – instead, it feels like a brand experience.
Let’s take Montreal’s Beyond the Rack as an example to illustrate how they put these things together into a really successful flash sales site. This is their homepage – and price is a big part of it. Probably the most emphasized element is the bar advertising the sale on Olympia luggage, which is only on for a limited time:
On their category pages, Beyond the Rack keeps things simple and highly visible so that you can eye-shop quickly. They also signal time-sensitivity and scarcity of product by showing when all available product has been reserved – all of which encourages quick sales and repeat visits.
These are features that carry across all sorts of flash sales sites – whether they be penny bid sites or high-fashion flash sales sites like we saw above. They’re also traits that set them in opposition to the signals of luxury that Burberry employs so well: deals are limited time offers, but luxury is always pricey.
To put it simply, luxury brands emphasize product over price. Flash sales sites, however, emphasize price (or at least deals) in favor of product. Neither approach is better than the other, but you’d better have a good sense of why people are coming to your site. Are you in a position to offer the truly astonishing luxury products that your affluent guests desire? Or are your customers focused on getting more for their dollar? Gilt and Beyond the Rack make a thriving business of selling beautifully designed clothes and housewares for cheap – but they know that their job is giving deals, not making a luxury brand experience.
So know yourself: is luxury right for your site? Knowing your company, your products, and what sort of value you add is the first step to answering this question. From there, you can design a truly remarkable website – and more importantly, you can also design a site that honestly and accurately communicates what you really offer to your customers.
Andrew is the editor of the GoInstant blog. He’s interested in the intersection of design, tech, and good old-fashioned customer service. You can find him on Twitter as @andrewkonoff.