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The Best And Worst Web Sites Of 2014: From Beautiful Design To Flawed Execution

  • Written by  Amanda McCreary, Acquia

AmandaMcCrearyLooking back on 2014, it’s clear the world of commerce is in flux. Brands are growing and evolving rapidly, with the typical highs and lows that come with changing tides. Online commerce experienced a lot of growth, with a trend towards improving the user experience and telling a better story. We picked through the best of the best, and the worst of the worst, to find some of the most beautifully presented web sites, and a few of those that somehow missed the mark.

Here’s a peek at some of the best and worst of commerce in 2014:

Best: Beautiful Brand Experiences

Born Shoes boasts a web site that is truly a work of art. From the moment you land on their homepage, you’re immersed in their brand — a world of product and creativity. Craftsmanship is the name of the game, and this cornerstone of the brand is woven throughout the entire site experience. The integration of beautiful, quality content across every page of the site is nearly unparalleled, right down to the individual product pages, which is often where the brand experience falls short. Their shop makes you want to browse, buy and then share the good word of a great brand to all who will listen.

Pro Tip: Express your brand through beautiful imagery, and deepen engagement by integrating user content throughout your site.

Burberry is a luxury brand that really gets it right. The web site experience is perfectly aligned with their brand and persona — it’s sleek, chic, modern and cool. They use strong graphics throughout their site, with a dynamic homepage that integrates video and visually stunning photography to instantly pull in any consumer. The online experience almost makes you feel like you’re getting intimate with the brand, without ever having to step foot in a store. There is a unified, cohesive look, feel and user experience across the entire site, which is easy to navigate for any consumer. 

Pro Tip: Instantly engage through strong graphics and video.

Suitsupply has a clean, modern aesthetic and a seamless experience between content and commerce. While extremely user friendly and easy to navigate, you never lose the quality of content that gives Suitsupply a brand and a voice. The simple navigation column makes a lot of sense, yet never gives the feeling of a traditional commerce site. Their “Shop By Look” feature offers a lookbook style experience, where users can buy product directly from the pages of beautifully designed content, allowing them to simultaneously consume inspiring content and shop, all in one place.

Pro Tip: Express the brand voice through rich copy and beautiful content.

Bellroy has a site that is unlike any other. Their product is simple — they just sell wallets. But they’ve developed the most amazing brand story to tell, and they tell it well. They’ve taken a tremendous amount of care to learn about their customers — their pain points, their concerns, their needs — and have answered everything in one interactive, imaginative and downright fun web site. Individual product pages feature a video to show precisely what fits into a wallet, based on persona — so for a traveler, those contents might include an ID card, a passport and foreign money — each of which is visually displayed on the product page. Even if you’re not currently in the market for a wallet, the Bellroy site actually makes me want to buy one, just to see if lives up to the amazing experience they develop and deliver online.

Pro Tip: Consider new and innovative ways to convey the value of your product.

Worst: Disjointed Experiences

Burt’s Bees is an incredible brand with a wonderful product and a great story to tell. If you’ve ever purchased from them, you know that they boast high-quality ingredients, brand stories and a commitment to doing things the right way. But when you arrive on the site, that story is nowhere to be found. The brand falls flat, and instead comes across as lifeless and lackluster. Their wonderful stories and imagery are nowhere to be found.

Pro Tip: Every store has a story; share it online, not just in person!

Lego is another really strong brand with great brand recognition, but their online shopping experience is completely disjointed. Because of COPA (Child Online Protection Act), Lego has to separate their homepage from their shopping page, but with that separation also comes a separate experience. Their homepage is vibrant, lively and fun, with bold graphics and an interactive look and feel, but as soon as you click through to their “shop.lego” page, you lose all the personality of the brand and are left with an uninspiring catalog to shop.

Pro Tip: Create a seamless transition from content to commerce and don’t leave your brand behind.

St. John is a luxury brand with nice images and beautiful products, but you can’t actually shop on their site. Seems a bit unbelievable in this day and age, but when you click the “shop online” button, you’re confronted with the option to find a brick-and-mortar boutique, or head off-site to Nordstrom to buy online from them. This creates an extremely disjointed experience for the user, and inevitably forces the brand to miss out on what could be a great sales channel.

Pro Tip: Set customer expectations up front, rather than sending them off-site without warning.

Hermes is a top-notch brand with exceptional merchandise, but when you land on their web site, you have no idea what you’re looking at. The initial options are “discover Hermes,” “buy online,” and “find our stores,” so you immediately have to pick which experience you’re after. This is a major divide between their content and commerce, forcing users to pick just one path, instead of allowing them to experience the brand in its entirety.

Pro Tip: Focus on incorporating content and commerce into one harmonious user experience.

Lessons Learned

Brands often invest heavily in, well, branding! Logos, fonts, color pallets, photo shoots, videos… the list of brand assets goes on and on, and they’re all used extensively in marketing. But all of those beautiful and expensive assets can’t suddenly be dropped at the front door of your web site.

The lesson here is this: Don’t just tell your brand story, show it. Shout it from the mountaintops. Every visitor should be able to identify your site and your brand before even seeing your logo. This could mean investing in high-quality photography, creating a more interactive page with elements the user can play with, or focusing on creating great written content that conveys your unique brand voice.


Amanda McCreary is the Senior Product Marketing Manager of Commerce at Acquia, a digital experience company which helps more than 4,000 organizations including Pinterest, Mercedes Benz, and Warner Music Group transform their digital businesses.

 

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