September 17, 2010, 2:47 PM

For online retail, punk rock can be as good as Pink Floyd

Sometimes, a simple and clean retail site is just want the consumer wants.

Here at Internet Retailer world headquarters, my colleagues and I spend hours learning and writing about the latest mobile sites and apps, video applications, geolocation services and other digital tools turned out by the web and marketing geniuses who are pushing retail forward. It’s all rather cool, and some of the stuff we cover even borders on the masterful and artistic.

So I was a bit confused the other day when I checked out the new e-commerce site from women’s fashion retail chain Dressbarn. I can’t say I have shopped for too many skirts, blouses or pumps, and I am certainly no expert on fashion or web design, but the relatively bare-bones feel of the site was pleasing.

Absent were the sullen models striking poses in unrealistic photo shoots—no jungle vegetation, no old barns, no glossy robotic faces, no wild animals menacing in the background. Nor was I assaulted by videos that wanted to tell me all about how to properly wear a scarf or which crowed about the fair-trade origin of the material in a sweater. And there was no Twitter feed moving across the page to divert my attention; I get enough exposure to data scrolls when I watch pundits shout at each other on cable news.

Instead, I saw just the product categories, a free-shipping offer, a store locator, a live chat button and items worn by women who seem more likely to be sitting across from you in an airport lounge than trying to win some reality show model contest.

That’s not to say innovation is bad, that the latest technology and edgy design doesn’t have its place in online retail. Of course it does, as many smart retail professionals are proving. And I realize that for many retailers, I am hardly the prime consumer. I don’t have a burning urge to own a smartphone, nor do I Facebook. I prefer phone calls and e-mail over texts and I’d rather read a product description on my own than have an eager employee explain it to me on YouTube.  I have no desire to dress to impress anyone, either.

But, as the online retail world progresses ever further into personalization, social networking, images-over-text and the technical avant garde—developments brought home every week as my colleagues and I decide which sites are good enough for our upcoming Hot 100 feature in the December issue of Internet Retailer magazine—let me raise my voice for those consumers, whether old fogeys or younger boring married dudes, who are naturally attracted to the simple and to the clean.  For those of you with a musical bent, think of it as the difference between punk rock and Pink Floyd. Both can be beautiful and effective, but one is crisp and powerful, and nails you in the gut, while the other floats around you in a swirl of tone and melody.

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