E-commerce consultant and blogger George Ioannou blogged Tuesday (June 16) about the new Ted Baker virtual store (pictured above). The store works like Google Street View, using 360-degree panoramic photos to simulate a visit to the company's store in Shoreditch, England.
At first, Ioannou is appreciative of the site's design, applauding its "gorgeously" high-definition photos, "fluid and intuitive" movement around the store, and the clickability of every product featured in the photos.
The beauty of online shopping is quickly identifying what you want and how you want to view it.
But Ioannou quickly questions the virtual store's objectives, asking who it is targeting (high-end fashion fans who are unable to access the physical store), what advantages it has over a "normal" e-commerce site (not many, but it's a "novel" way to browse product), and if this is "tech just for the sake of tech" (yes and no, he says, noting the publicity/marketing value of the experiment).
I would agree in that while the virtual store is an interesting attempt to fuse online and in-store, it feels more gimmicky than effective.
The beauty of online shopping is that there are tools that allow you to browse or search and filter products to your heart’s content. I can quickly navigate down to a specific product category, search for only shirts or dresses of a specific style or size or color, and the resulting products are laid out in an easy-to-scan manner.
I am of course referring to a well designed e-commerce site. There are still many sites that are lacking a lot of functionality or are just hard to use overall, but if you follow some basic design principles when creating an e-commerce site, it can result in some really great experiences. Many sites also offer more of a "look book"-type experience, where they put together combinations of outfits, or showcase images of real people wearing the brands clothes in real-life scenarios, which add more context to the outfits. These sites provide a little more personality than just image after image of t-shirts on white backgrounds. It showcases the lifestyle features of the product, allows individuals to buy into the brand as well as offers people ideas for different outfit combinations they may not be able to put together themselves.
It's kind of fun to virtually walk around a store like this, but the experience feels clunky.
While I do think it’s kind of fun being able to virtually walk around a store and get a feel for the brand, this experience feels a little clunky. The Google Street View approach doesn’t seem to render particularly smoothly. When using the site, I can use little arrows to navigate around the store and take me where I want to go, but once I click on a spot the whole screen blurs as I fly toward a different section of the store. The transition doesn’t feel very smooth. I understand there are some technological restraints with these types of experiences, but that’s why I would still prefer to just go into a real store and see what’s there myself.
I am a bit of a sucker for a nice store design, so I did enjoy navigating my way through this virtual store. The interaction of clicking on a product and being able to zoom into it is also quite nice. I see a shoe, I click on it, a box pops up with a larger picture and I can see it close up. I can quickly dismiss the box and keep browsing. The disappointing part: When I did see something I was interested in, the site only provided me the price, name and a single image. I wanted to know if those shoes came in my size, what the backs look like, if they were still in stock, or if there another color option. All this information is readily available to me on a regular e-commerce site. I can get that information by clicking "Continue to product" (see below photo), but then I’m taken out of my virtual-store experience to the regular e-commerce site, where all that information lives. At this point, I felt like I should have just been on the regular e-commerce site to begin with.
I agree with Ioannou in that the virtual store opens up the Ted Baker in-store experience to an audience that may be far away from a real Ted Baker store. It also helps set the tone of the brand to an extent. It might also be nice for individuals who enjoy walking around shops but can’t get out much or don’t enjoy the experience when it’s really busy.
If I really want to buy something, I would prefer the regular e-commerce site of a real in-store experience.
Overall this is an interesting concept and I enjoyed playing around with the site and poking around the store. My big hangup was a poor transition from virtual store to e-commerce site for in-depth product info and purchasing. The site was fun to play with, but I wouldn’t want to do all my shopping through a virtual store mode. This would also be hard to maintain long-term with a large turnover of items as you’d have to constantly re-photograph your store for each season. At the end of the day, I would browse a virtual store just for fun, but if I really want to buy something, I would prefer the regular e-commerce site or a real in-store experience.