December 4, 2014, 10:17 AM

Five ways to bring boutique appeal to your e-commerce platform

Sabon, a retailer of bath and body products, recently redesigned its web site. Here are some of the concepts that went into that redesign.

E-Commerce has been an absolute game-changer for retailers and manufacturers, but it’s about time that we took a step back to pick apart its negative side-effects. Sure, I can look up Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch on Amazon, decide I want it, and have a copy shipped to me in a couple days, but something major is lost in the process. Because for as great as online shopping can be, there’s also something special about walking into an independent bookstore, ruffling through a used book and smelling the wonderful scent of a dusty page.

The internet is a bastion of customer convenience, but it demands more effort from retailers who want to give customers a profound and memorable experience.

In our most recent partnership with bath and body product retailer Sabon, we knew it wouldn’t be enough to develop a by-the-numbers e-commerce site—if it was ever going to do the physical products justice, we had to build a bona fide luxury experience. Now that the finished site is officially live, here are the five ways we helped breathe boutique life into Sabon’s online experience.

1.       Envision your site as a living space

When you’re a boutique bath and body product retailer like Sabon, you pride your business on customer experience. Upon visiting their site, you’ll see this pride translated into an online format. Whitespace draws attention to the products, channeling the peaceful comfort of the physical store. At the same time, visitors to the site always have a grasp on exactly what they’re looking at. There’s no way to get lost, because the entire store is always just a click away.

Whenever I leave the physical store, I find it hard to stop thinking about how smooth my hands feel. When customers leave Sabon’s site, we want them to be thinking about how smooth their experience felt.

2.       Your product is your main attraction. Make it look good.

When you sell soaps and lotions and oils, you have to appeal to your customers’ senses. In a physical space, this is easy. You let them smell the soap, you let them try out the lotion. But on the web, you have to compensate by capturing different senses.

 Let your users zoom in on a product so they feel like they’re interacting with it. Write captivating flavor text. You can’t show off your product directly, but there’s no reason to deny customers the next best thing.

3. Use promotions to make up for lost ground

We already know that the online experience can’t match the in-store experience, but the true challenge for the E-Commerce site is to go the extra mile to try and close that gap.

To make up for what’s lost in the online customer experience, Sabon’s site uses a constant loop of promotions and calls to action that give customers a sense of added value. They can’t see our products in-person, but they can get them shipped for free, and we even offer gift wrapping to bump up the experience to that next rung on the ladder.

4. Emulate the presence of a person, even if there’s not one there    

The internet has a reputation for degrading customer service, and retailers have to go to great lengths to adjust. Wherever an employee would interact with a customer in a physical store, you have to make sure your E-Commerce site is stepping in to fill that void.

Sabon’s homepage guides users by telling them what’s popular, what’s on sale, and where to find everything in the store. Sabon knows that their customers want products that are compatible with their complexion, so they categorize products by “Skin Type.” Think about what your customers are looking for when they go into your shop, and address those problems directly in your web design.

5. Complement, don’t devalue, your brick-and-mortar experience

The interplay between online store and brick-and-mortar experience is a delicate tightrope, and every business has to walk it in their own way. Tilt too far one way, and you’ll make the physical shop irrelevant. Lean too far in the other direction, and your site may slowly wither away. For Sabon, the goal was to provide as delightful an E-Commerce experience as possible, while still encouraging visitors to check out the physical products for themselves.

All too often, we see competitors skimp on this step by making store locations feel like cookie-cutter franchise operations. We gave customers a sense of direction and an actionable first step by placing all of the Sabon store locations within the Google Maps API.  And by providing unique images for each location and specific directions on how to get there, you can make each store feel like a distinct place with an identity of its own.

New York City-based Icreon Tech, a subsidiary of Indian software consulting firm Icreon, builds mobile and web applications.

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