Web-shops of distinction, a few tips on getting it right

Being interested in clothes I occasionally peek around various shops on the web. Not that often though, and not really with very much joy either. Why, you may wonder? Well, while a lot of effort will usually go into creating a physical shop of distinction, the same effort is rarely put into creating a singular shop on-line. Why is this?


I´ve previously written about how traditional local shops can compete against the onslaught of the on-line emporiums, and this is a follow-up post of sorts. In part one I strongly suggested that small shops also establish an on-line shop to give them both an extra source of sales, and also an opportunity to carry more stock that may not have a huge potential on a local level can find customers on a global basis. You´d think it was a win-win situation, right?

Yet just as a bricks and mortar shop can be anywhere from stupendously poor to wonderfully inspired, so the same goes for web-based outlets. While a web-shop can be set up at almost no cost, with very little effort, you will find that this is very much a question of reaping what you sow. Unless you´re selling something so singular that customers will flock to your shop regardless of whether you´ve styled and stocked it in the manner of a cold war era Soviet state run bakery.

So what does it take to make a good web-shop?

  1. For starters it has to actually work. It has to be available, the infrastructure has to be in place, orders must be received, paid for and followed up.
  2. It has to have interesting content. If your web-shop is one of 25 almost identical shops, you´re unlikely to see more than 1/25th of the potential sales, right? Why share your customers?
  3. It needs to be well built so that customers can find what they´re looking for. Menu systems, categories and so forth have to be well thought out and logical.
  4. You have to have the stock you´re selling and be able to ship it fast. It´s no use either having almost no stock, or pretending to have stock and then having to order in before you can ship.
  5. You have to appreciate that your customers may want to have a dialogue with you, and this only works if you take the time to reply to emails, chats and telephones, and do it properly.
  6. You have to handle returns better than a physical shop. This means free returns, no restocking fees and no quibbles. This is probably a tough one to eat as this is where your profits dwindle.
  7. And that is pretty much it for basics. Get these factors sorted and you´re roughly as good as any other web-shop.

Yet, being just as good as the others isn´t really enough, is it? Mediocrity is rarely celebrated, the winner is never the one that scores on the middle of the bell curve. What does it take to be different?

Rather than try to come up with a magic formula (and then proceed to give it away without compensation), I offer up a few examples for your consideration. All are in the category of small shops, I´ve little interest in the huge on-line emporiums (though what they may lack in personality and soul appears to be more than compensated for by having a totally streamlined infrastructure).

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First up a web-shop I came across when looking to buy Hansen Garments clothes. Notoriously hard to find at the time, though now available directly, I was looking at the Danish shop Wardrobe 19 to help me. While they didn´t ship outside the EU and hence couldn´t help me, they do a fantastic job of presenting their wares. Their personal style of photography is utterly compelling and means their shop has an immediate and recognisable personality. Their web-shop is so good it makes me want to go to Copenhagen to visit their physical shop.

As a bit of a counterpart, another shop in Copenhagen is a little different. From what I can tell their physical shop is truly wonderful, and their online service is certainly fantastic, with very quick replies and a willingness to go the extra mile for their customer. Yet where Wardrobe 19 has taken their product presentation to the next level, Maritime Antiques is let down by very drab and uninspired photography. Maritime Antiques does ship outside the EU though, so they got my business, even though they didn´t have the best photos!

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Another company that has taken the web experience up a few notches is the very British SEH Kelly. This is a company that may just be about as small as it can get, consisting of only 2 people and a physical location you can just about swing a cat in. As long as the cat isn´t very large, that is. In fact, you may argue that they have almost done away with the physical shop entirely, which makes sense, as while they could probably make a small living from only a small shop, they are reaching out globally through their excellent web presence.

As Wardrobe 19 have done, SEH Kelly have developed their own flavour of photography. Instantly recognisable, whether it´s garments shown on their dummy or one of their select male models. In addition, the site is full of documentation, about the processes, the parts and the makers, that go into making SEH Kelly what they are. This way, there is as much to read on the site as there is to shop, making it so much more of an experience.

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The final of the three examples takes the idea of presenting the goods even further. WG Trunk Co, an offshoot of the Australian company Whillas & Gunn is a web-shop selling a selection of Whillas & Gunn items, as well as selected items from other companies. The selection itself isn´t that unusual, but the way they are presented is. The site is a combination of travelogue and shop, where the items in the shop are woven into pictorials from journeys to exotic locations. This allows the viewer to see the clothes and bags actually being used, and provides an interesting view on how they work in various settings. Of course, it´s a long way from Jakarta to Norway, but theres no harm in daydreaming, right?

Which retailers do you think get it really right?

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