Old Design vs. New Technology – Fashion Industry Websites

Three weeks ago I was visiting with a client in London to reinforce our position with a contract renewal and discuss some new ideas and layouts we had for their site. The discussion turned to questions about having the client’s site rebuilt using flash. I explained to him why this was not the best way forward and if he is intent on using Flash then we can integrate small amounts that will be tasteful and stylish which he wanted. The client is an importer-exporter of fine fabrics to the fashion industry. He told me that most of the fashion industry websites are built using flash and this is the norm for that line of business. I am aware of this and having a gut feeling he may ask I was ready for it. I told him that many of the top fashion designers do not rank as well in their search engine rankings for keywords for finding the products they sell, and the sites that usually come in the top positions are resellers for those very same fashion names or products.

All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go

It’s tantamount if you own a company whether it is the fashion industry or any other business that you rank first for your own brand name. When you have other websites such as resellers ranking ahead of you in search engines such as Google, Yahoo or MSN it looks bad, it cheapens the name and especially if you have no control over the resellers website and they produce a site that is aesthetically awful and unusable.

Managing your reputation

In the world of designer clothing reputation is almost as important as the products itself. If you have the first page and second page of Google search results for your brand name then it’s important that negative publicity, bad reviews and sellers not upholding the brand correctly or worse still selling fake ‘knock-offs’ of your product are pushed down the search engine ladder.

After my meeting in London I decided to venture down to Old Bond Street and the surrounding area for a look at the designer shops and stores. I went into Gucci, Prada, Ralph Lauren, Burberry, Chanel, Salvatore Ferragamo, Alexander McQueen and quite a few others. On entering these shops I was duly impressed with the layout and the quality of stores. Going into Gucci with it’s door person greeting you and entering a world of glitz was everything I had expected, stylish, comfort, modern interior and the clothing and accessories laid out neatly and easy to find, the same thing with Alexander McQueen and Prada. I went into Ralph Lauren and it was like entering a warm country mansion with leather chairs, hushed tones and a warm fire. Everything in Ralph Lauren was in reach and easy to find – the staff were incredible. I had no intention of purchasing anything just looking for inspiration and a few answers. I ended purchasing a beautiful white shirt and a belt not because I felt obliged but because it was there and so inviting, easy to reach and no hassle of waiting or finding my size – this is how it is supposed to be.

Fashion Designer Websites

What were these shops doing right? The answer lies in well trained staff, easy to find items, style and luxury and setting a theme that is highly appropriate to the fashion label and being made to feel part of it as you enter another world.

The top fashion labels know how to sell and what their clientele expect – they know when a customer enters the store everything must be in reach and accessible – if a customer wants to see the more glitzier side they can go to fashion shows and exhibitions featuring these designers. It comes as a surprise that a majority of their websites don’t quite make the mark.
After my trip I decided to a little research on the fashion industry websites and realised they all the same thing in common – most of their sites were built in Flash, a lot of them were not ranking first for their own name, missing vital information on the sites and other numerous issues.

Websites designed with Flash

All of them except for Ralph Lauren were built in Flash, I wondered about the visitors, who don’t have the flash plug-in, and the ones who have flash turned off, accessibility issues as well. Though some of the designers rank first for their name except for Alexander McQueen who Gucci ranked first for (I believe it is now partly owned by Gucci) were not fully utilizing their websites. All had beautiful flash sites but all were not accessible and it was not easy to navigate in some circumstances. Again Ralph Lauren was the exception as it offered an entire e-commerce front but did not have any of the Glitz or feeling of their store. Gucci’s website broke in Opera browser and I had to switch to Firefox. I saw some cool looking sneakers and decided to follow the links where it then offered to take my name and address for a personal shopper to contact me. Well this works well offline, maybe, but online I didn’t have the time or inclination to go through giving my details to wait for a personal shopper. Gucci potentially missed a sale by not having their own store front.

The solution

Thinking about the best way forward – I would say that the fashion houses should start considering more modern design and functionality in the builds of their websites and gently integrate Flash. Treat online like their offline shops neatly laid out, well designed and easily accessible to buy with the right of amount of woven fashion fantasy into sites. Flash versions should be treated like their fashion shows as an option for the shopper/visitor who wants to see this and not forced into waiting for slow loading flash sites to open and incidentally breaking some mobile phones. The newer designed sites need to get to grips with lay out – nothing worse and having to feel around looking for that cool suit only to wait for the men’s flash version to open and wade through a load of photos to find what you want or possibly not find it at all.

A well designed cutting edge and appropriate website for the fashion industry that meets standards, search engine optimised for reputation management and the information on where to buy NOW would sit well with visitors to these sites.