August 28, 2008, 12:00 AM

Online communities and videos leading design trends, expert says

The hottest—and most successful—e-commerce web design trends of the moment are online communities and embedding videos within pages, says Bridget Fahrland, executive creative director for web design and development firm Fry Inc.

A web site is an e-retailer’s storefront, and just as bricks-and-mortar shops change their window displays, online merchants are constantly seeking new ways to draw in customers and prompt them to purchase. The hottest-and most successful-web design trends of the moment are online communities and embedding videos on home or product pages to enhance product descriptions rather than putting them on separate pages in a special section, says Bridget Fahrland executive creative director for web design and development firm Fry Inc.

Retailers such as Wet Seal are adding communities, and as a result increasing traffic, Fahrland says. The clothing retailer, No. 326 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, added a community to its site earlier this year that allows visitors to post outfits created from its apparel line to a virtual runway and share them with others. Rather than adding a profile page or application to a general social network such as MySpace or Facebook, retailers that create their own communities within their site are fostering a community centered entirely around their brand. “It can attract someone specifically interested in a retailer’s product from snowboards to fashion,” Fahrland says.

Adding video as an extra feature rather than using it as the central focus of a page is another trend Fahrland is seeing. “Video used to be used on a separate page in a different area of the site,” Fahrland says. Now, she says, retailers such as The North Face are embedding videos on product pages or using rollovers with video pop-ups. It’s an easier, more simplified way to add depth to a brand without making the consumer jump through several hoops. Adding practical demonstrational video to product pages often can help boost conversions, Fahrland says.

Another trend Fahrland is spotting is more site creativity. When e-commerce was new, e-retailers were very focused on best practices, Fahrland says. A logo was often top left, design was structured and often blocky. But now, sites such as are serving up more playful, creative and free-flowing sites to better differentiate themselves and establish their brand. “Retailers are realizing their design can help set them apart,” she says. “They are learning yes, every car has a steering wheel on the left, but not every car has to look the same.”

A more long-term trend Fahrland predicts is web sites making adjustments to coincide with the popularity of touch screens. In fact, Fahrland is doing research on this now. She points to Hewlett Packard’s new touch screen computer and the popular touch-based iPhone and iPod as signs of the growing trend. Ralph Lauren Media LLC recently launched touch-screen store windows in Rugby stores that support e-commerce transactions on, a feature the company has also offered for its Polo Ralph Lauren stores and web site.

Fahrland also sees changes in web design behind the scenes. A consulting design firm used talk to a retailer’s staff to learn its goals and ideas, then work on site design independently and have a big unveiling at the end. Now the process is collaboration between client’s employees and the outside firm every step of the way, she says.

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