When I found out that I was going to get involved with ReferralCandy to help ecommerce retailers, I decided that I was going to really get into it. Really get into it.
I started by trawling the list of retailers using our service, hitting every URL, as well as every store’s Facebook and Twitter. Over the past few weeks I’ve literally checked out over a thousand stores. It’s been an eye-opening experience. I think I’ve learnt something along the way about what makes ecommerce stores tick, and I’d like to share that with you. (Sharing is learning.)
Let me start by sharing specific stores that have caught my eye and lingered in my mind:
1: Designious sells vector art, Photoshop brushes and t-shirt designs.
Designious sells vector art, Photoshop brushes and t-shirt designs. The team is based in Bucharest, Romania. I got mixed up over the name- I first thought it read disingenuous. Boom, the name is stuck in my head forever. (Thanks, guys.)
They use a strong, bold typeface for their navigation. Their artwork is modern and severe in a positive sense. Very stylish. Also, they give away free stuff!
2: The Stiff Collar sells “Somewhat Snooty English Shirts.”
The Stiff Collar is based in Mumbai, India and they sell “Somewhat Snooty English Shirts.” I was sold, instantly. While not conventionally flashy or elegant, the whole site just oozes personality. (If you look carefully, there’s a link at the bottom right that says “Comic”, and it’s a 12 page long detective story. Why? I’m guessing the answer to that was “Why not?!”)
It’s interesting to me that I was so quickly won over by the site, because I have high standards for visual design, and am always quick to point out imperfections. The quality of the images aren’t optimal, and the colour scheme could surely be tweaked to convey maximum snootiness.
Despite those minor issues, the passion of the retailers comes through in spades. “On balance it is a good thing we all know so little about our business,” they joke. “It keeps life entertaining.” Who wouldn’t want to buy a shirt from these guys?
3: Gravity Anomaly promises to sell “the most advanced technical mountain bike riding garments on the market, manufactured in the USA”.
Gravity Anomaly promises to sell “the most advanced technical mountain bike riding garments on the market, manufactured in the USA”.
The site is a visual treat and an absolute pleasure to navigate. These guys are very, very clear about what they’re passionate about and what they stand for. The “About Us” is used to great effect, communicating their team’s passions and convictions. The on-site blog reveals a clear passion and dedication
If you think our clothing might look like it’s more suited for a work site than a leisurely ride to the park,” they declare, “you’re starting to get us.”
I’m not a mountain biker, but if I ever befriend one, I know what I’d get them for Christmas.
4: Undz.org doesn’t sell underwear, it sells a point-of-view.
Undz.org is based in Montreal, Canada and might just be my favourite site on the internet at the moment. They technically sell underwear (over 1,000,000 pieces sold!), but what they’re really selling is a point-of-view. I have landed on their site multiple times, and I burst out laughing every single. The above picture does not do it justice; you have to go there.
Breaking every rule in the book:
It’s interesting to sit back and analyze the site’s success. The navigation is unintuitive- you’ll probably take quite a while to actually get to the shop. But it’s such a fantastic journey. Undz have created an experience that’s hard to replicate. They’re like a surreal inverse-Disney, put through the lens of some sort of drug-addled 90’s kid. And yet we can’t stop staring. And feeling, oddly, like we ought to buy some underwear. (Read more: Unexpectedness in marketing)
While the site looks haphazard and randomly thrown together, the effect achieved is deliberate. Undz follows others like The Best Page In The Universe and Old Spice’s Mr. Wolfdog– the chaos and poor design are intended. To avoid a lengthy discussion on the philosophy of communication, let’s leave it at this- you can’t replicate Undz.org’s successful marketing unless you know exactly why you’re doing it.
5: Punchdrunk Panda – catchy name, infectious energy, cheery products.
Punchdrunk Panda is based in The Phillipines, and has possibly the catchiest, most memorable name I’ve ever heard of. (The mental image is absolutely hilarious, too. Just think about it for a little while. Two pandas, in a boxing ring…)
They make iPhone cases, camera straps, shoes and other paraphernalia. There’s a bright, positive energy that’s cutesy, cheery and fun, and it’s something that’s very infectious.
Hey, isn’t your iPhone case getting kind of old, anyway? 😛
6: Cocaine Cowboys – Abrasive, rock & roll T-Shirts
Cocaine Cowboys are based in Berlin, Germany, and the they are well and truly irreverent. They clearly give a Damn about giving no damns. Their Facebook feed is saturated with pictures of attractive ladies in various states of undress. Also, cigars, fast cars and other indulgences associated with the “high life”.
They hold nothing back with their pedal-to-the-metal approach, which results in an unapologetically abrasive, devil-may-care brand. It’s definitely going to offend a few people, but that’s precisely what they’re going for.
I would totally wear this stuff to a Rammstein concert, or under a leather jacket while racing across the Autobahn on a BMW motorbike. Ich Will!
7: Serious Pig – Salami is serious business.
Serious Pig is based in London, England. These guys are mighty serious about their salami. Snacking salami, to be precise. Serious snacking salami. The “Our Tail” page describes the founder’s serious obsession with all things pork.
Turns out that ‘charcuterie’ (a unique process of preparing meat) is in its infancy in Britain, and that the key to good salami is to have the right amount of fat. It sounds both complicated and delicious.
8: Kurgo – by dog lovers, for dog lovers
Kurgo is based in Massachusetts, USA. The coolest thing about them is how you can immediately know what they’re selling just by glancing at the logo. It’s immediately apparent what sort of need their products fulfill.
The “About Us” page tells a clear story about dog owners who built products to solve problems that they faced themselves. The Lifetime Warranty is a nice touch, and it’s easy to see that the products are a labour of love.
9: ANTA – Tasteful In Tartan
ANTA is based in Scotland and sells tartan products. Their designs are incredibly elegant, classy and tasteful. They’ve apparently been in the business for over 25 years now, and everything about their products are made locally in Scotland.
I’m tempted to bulk order a whole bunch of things, and I’m not even really huge on home decoration. Their stoneware looks especially beautiful and Zen.
To me, ANTA is an example of a successful product that sells itself. The job of marketing is to just get out of the product’s way. The site is ultra-minimalist, drawing attention to the craftsmanship of the pieces.
10: Honizukle Press – breezy paper goods made with love
Honizukle Press is a one-woman operation based in New Jersey, USA. She (Kimberly) sells stationery and paper goods, such as greeting cards. The site’s design was refreshingly light and clearly (to me) put together with great precision and care.
The same can be said of all her products- She has impeccable taste and is clearly passionate about her work. (A visit to her on-site blog confirms this. She loves what she does.)
What do these stores have in common?
What makes them so sticky in a marketplace saturated with unmemorable, nondescript wares?
- They all have strong value propositions. These stores are ruthlessly clear about what they’re delivering to their customers. It could be a promise of technical engineering (Gravity Anomaly), or a devil-may-care attitude (Cocaine Cowboys). It could be a promise of artistic quality (ANTA, Honizukle), fun (Punchdrunk Panda) or even slight snootiness (The Stiff Collar).
- The promise is always clear. This helps greatly with word-of-mouth, because a clear promise can be passed on. The customer knows what she’s getting. Even if it’s something she doesn’t want for herself, it’s something that she could share with her friends, who might just want it instead. (Sharing such information is socially advantageous and rewarding. I’m sure you can think of somebody in your social circle who’d love to receive something from each of these stores.)
- They solve problems. They resolve issues that they were personally afflicted with or passionate about. Which means that they probably didn’t get involved just to make money, they got involved because they give a damn about what they do. They communicate their personal conviction, and conviction inspires trust.
- They have a lot of personality, which helps to diminish customer anxiety. We’re dealing with people who love what they do. Who doesn’t want to do that?