Last month, Shinola, maker of various Detroit-built items like bikes, watches and leather goods, responded to growing international demand by launching a European e-commerce site in order to provide consumers “direct access to all of its products,” in the words of CEO Steve Bock. The new site will cater to people living in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Spain and the UK with 6 different languages.
Two things are particularly interesting about this move to get its European e-commerce shine on:
1.) It signals to brand manufacturers the importance of having awareness of global consumer demand for American products.
2.) It demonstrates the relative ease with which manufacturers can expand the markets for their consumer brand products … or better fulfill demand within existing markets by adding or bolstering a direct-to-consumer e-commerce platform.
As for the brand’s e-commerce on this side of the pond, a look at the U.S. Shinola website reveals some things it is doing well to tell its unique story as a manufacturer and cater to the needs and expectations of Web shoppers everywhere:
Customer spotlights: The company features professional portraits of its employees by factory in its ‘places’ section. These portraits, when hovered over, also give information about the individual’s hometown and years of service. It also links prominently to different videos for each of the operations within the relevant sections.
One sticking point: It really should be called “People & Places” or something else with the word people in it, because as it’s currently labelled in the navigation and page header—”Places We Work”—you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find people in it, and these people sell the show by bringing emotional credibility to what could easily be a soulless page or website, for that matter.
Grade: A-. The lack of signaling the people in this section kept it from a solid ‘A’ for the way. That said, it is exemplary for humanizing the company while providing interesting details in a highly presentable format.
Homepage: Elegant in its simplicity, this site does what very few e-commerce home pages, let alone general business home pages, do. That is, it conveys and prioritizes the most important information and balances what could a complex mess of options into an intuitive design. The top nav presents the product categories clearly from the outset: New arrivals, watches, leather, bicycles, journals and pet are visible as soon as the page loads. Not only is it visible at the start, but it remains fixed in place as a solid anchor to quickly return to when the user scrolls down the page or visits other pages on the site.
Grade: A. Most business home pages fail at clearly presenting what companies do and easy routes for further exploration. This one succeeds wildly.
Navigation: The top nav’s ‘mega-nav’ design uses selective categories, images and individual products to streamline the most prominent items with clear links to ‘See All’ should the user want more. When viewing individual product/category pages, the side nav allows advanced filtering for shoppers to refine their choices by price, color and other pertinent options. The side nav also provides additional paths for users to find the other categories and select individual products. Finally, a traditional breadcrumb nav offers an alternative route to go back-and-forth within sections.
Grade: A+. The categories are appropriately descriptive (in other words, they don’t suck). Designers should be drooling over the top nav’s liberal use of white space. Also, see above about shopper usability.
Product pages: Liberal use of images, multiple angles and magnifying glass-style close-ups allow users to see products in rich detail. The overview pages give clear titles, descriptions and prices, which allow the user to determine whether it’s worth the time to click thru for more details, which are ample. Everything from full spec sheets to (in the case of The Brakeman watch) a video and 200-word description of the process behind making Shinola watches.
Grade: A+. Most, if not all, of the usability guidelines for the 5 types of e-commerce shoppers seem to be covered.
Miscellaneous/intangibles: The ‘free shipping/returns’ notice is clearly visible on the top left of every page in a distinctive black header bar (great use of contrast for emphasis). Studies show time and again that U.S. consumers love free shipping and returns, so some Web designer was paying attention. If it’s that big a selling point, it should be obvious all over the site, and it is.
Photo courtesy of Roland Tanglao via Flickr.