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In a post yesterday, I looked at where luxury brands are going wrong online, with examples of poor UX and SEO from a number of brands.

In this article, I want to look at the elements that give sites a luxury feel, and pick out some examples of brands that are managing to blend style and UX. 

How do brands convey luxury online? 

I think the key here is providing a great user experience. Too many luxury sites put creativity and visual appeal first and forget that people have to actually use these sites. 

Perhaps some luxury brands think the normal conventions of good usability don't apply to them, or are restricting their creativity. 

This attitude was summed up by Whistles' Jane Sheperdson, talking about its site redesign back in 2009:

We spent a lot of time researching best practice online. We then threw out everything we had learned, and just designed something that pleased us visually.

The result? Yes, a complete unusable mess of a site, which was incredibly difficult to buy from. It has undergone a further redesign since, but many basic flaws still remain. 

This perceived clash between creativity and usability is nonsense in my view, and has been used as an excuse to ignore ecommerce best practices like testing and designing with users in mind.

This is not to say that convention and best practice should be slavishly followed, but luxury brands should aim to combine good usability and great design. After all, selling things is the name of the game. 

So what elements make up a luxury site? 

There are many, but here are some of the more important:

  • Images. This is an important element whatever the site, but luxury sites should ensure that images convey the quality of the products on offer. 
  • Video. The use of video on product pages is great for conversion, and luxury brands should make the most of this opportunity. 
  • Attention to detail. Little things matter, such as detailed product descriptions. 
  • Great copy. The copy on product pages should be reinforcing that luxury feel, while keeping one eye on SEO. 
  • Great service. This is something luxury sites should be able to do well. This includes things like prompt delivery and packaging which matches the product
  • Fonts. Fonts can play a huge part in how websites and content are perceived.

Which luxury brands are doing this well?  

Here are a few examples. It's not been easy to find the 'perfect' luxury ecommerce site, but these all at least contain some excellent elements.

Selfridges

This is an excellent site, which does a lot well. A good example of combining luxury and good UX.  

The site looks good and the navigation works well. Product pages are well designed with excellent imagery and clear presentation of information on the product and delivery. 

I also like the fact that Selfridges has integrated click and collect, as well as a free returns policy. 

If there's any criticism here, it's that it may not be luxury enough for some.

However, the products on offer are, and Selfridges has made it as easy as possible for people to buy them, which is the name of the game. 

Jimmy Choo

A well designed and usable site which, like Selfridges, provides an excellent user experience. 

In addition to the ecommerce side, there's a news/content section under the heading 'Choo World' which actually links back to and works with the ecommerce site, unlike some other luxury brands. 

For example, when celebrities are spotted wearing its shoes, the site links to the relevant product page. It's a simple thing which many sites don't do. 

Burberry

Burberry has adopted digital in a big way, using technology as a way to convey luxury.

Its flagship London store is evidence of this, with its use of video, interactive mirrors, RFID tags, and recognition of the importance of mobile in multichannel retail. 

The ecommerce site works well too. I would argue that navigation could be clearer, with better filtering options for example, and getting from the homepage to a product page does require more clicks than is strictly necessary, but the site is generally well-presented, and does have that luxury feel: 

Product pages combine style with function too. Big high resolution images combined with video present the products beautifully. 

Burberry doesn't forget the details too, with a size guide, and some useful options on the right to use live chat or request a call back from customer services. 

If you're selling online, there's no reason why customers can;t be provided with the personal touch if they want it. 

There is room for improvement, such as providing greater clarity on delivery and returns. In fact, it should make it free next day delivery offer a little clearer as this is likely to be a sales driver. 

B&O Play

This site is an offshoot of Bang & Olufsen, and uses scrolling to good effect.

For example, this Beoplay  'sound system' costs upwards of £1,600, so a certain level of detail is required, and this product page is packed with it. 

It ties in with Spotify to demonstrate the speaker and its features (below), lifestyle shots show how good it would look in your front room, while detailed technical information shows its capabilities. 

Also, and this is not always the case for luxury sites,  the checkout is very well designed. 

B&O avoid the barrier to checkout that is registration by placing customer straight into the payment page.

It's a one-page checkout which makes each separate stage clear. It's enclosed so distractions are removed, while the cost summary and links to help and FAQs are there to deal with potential questions at this stage. 

 

Mulberry

This site, recently redesigned, uses responsive design to ensure it works across all mobile and desktop devices.

It works well throughout, and the product pages are full of excellent detail and great imagery. 

Checkout works well, with a guest option, and translates effectively to the smaller screen: 

                      

What do you think? Are these sites luxury enough? Do they match style with good user experience? Are others doing this better? Let me know below...

Graham Charlton

Published 5 May, 2014 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

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Naomi Brown, Digital Advertising Manager at Wex PhotographicSmall Business Multi-user

Really enjoyed this post and your previous one.

Other sites I think do luxury well are the big multi-brand online sellers - I'm thinking of Net-A-Porter in particular. Frankly if more luxury brand sites and department stores had nailed online earlier I don't think Net would exist.

Companies need to think about what luxury service means online. When I ordered a product from Matches the experience was slick - the site was very usable and clear, and when the product arrived it was packaged beautifully. Elements like personalised emails, packaging etc are what to me signify luxury when online purchasing.

Equally as a generation raised with the internet starts earning enough to spend on luxury goods, I think companies need to realise it is obvious how much money has been spent developing a site. If a luxury site has not spent time, effort and cash developing an easy to use website they come across as cheap.

over 2 years ago

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Trevor

Some of these brands still have work to do

For me, B&O has a major barrier to checkout. It's on a non-secure page and what appears to be non-secure ajax calls to update personal data records. SSL certificates are pretty cheap nowadays, I'm sure B&O could just about afford one.

If you are brave enough to enter your personal details and move on to make a payment it redirects to to a similar looking page but different font, alarm bells start to ring and you see the url is now on the domain pensio.com - so where am I now? who are pensio? At least it's https with a basic DV SSL certificate, but I think I'll keep my credit card in my wallet.

With Jimmy Choo, the new customer registration form is served on a non secure page, although upon further inspection the form submit action is https - why not put the form on https and reinforce consumer confidence.

Selfridges have SSL errors on their checkout page due to some images served from insecure http #schoolboyerror.

And while somewhere in their Terms and Conditions they all throw in a sentence about how they use secure sockets to transmit data in a safe and secure manner, there's no mention of their PCIDSS compliance status . . . so how exactly do they transmit, process and store my credit card data?

Top brands may have put a lot of effort into looking pretty but scratch the surface . . .

over 2 years ago

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Mark Pinkerton

Graham - thanks for this. Insightful as ever.

In my experience, many of the luxury brands lack ecommerce skills in-house and employ their brand design agencies for the website. These agencies still seem to completely fail to "get" what websites are about. I've seen some real horrors (they look lovely though), and thankfully headed the client away from them before they went live, but often it is too late.

Then they ask why their web sales are so far below target after about a month!

You can also see a number of brands that used Mr Porter as an examplar for layout which was a more effective solution to the problem.

Also brands can be cupable in that they only want consumers to view their products in the right context - ie as part of the capsule / drop / seasonal campaign. This means that they restrict the ability of customers to find items by their generic name or logical categorisation.

Until traditional merchandisers start using and trusting digital channel data these issues will continue...

over 2 years ago

Richard Jackson

Richard Jackson, Director at Session Digital LtdSmall Business Multi-user

Good follow-up to the previous post.

@Naomi - Completely agree that it’s clear when investment has been made in a site, and not just by providing good usability and beautiful design. If a brand hasn’t invested in improving site performance or optimised it for mobile, it detracts from the experience, no matter how beautiful the site is.

over 2 years ago

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Hugh Ggae

Interesting article. If only it were possible to back it up with the performance data.

over 2 years ago

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Guy Mucklow, Senior Web Designer at PCA Predict (formerly Postcode Anywhere)

Hi Graham, it's interesting that so many luxury brands are failing to address some of the basic UX concerns. In my opinion Mulberry and Burberry are miles ahead! Here's my thoughts: http://blog.postcodeanywhere.co.uk/index.php/a-passion-for-fashion-ux-2/

over 2 years ago

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Luke

Justifying the luxury price point is certainly paramount and takes on many forms. Mark raises a great point - in many respects, brands either avoid convention like the plague or comply so rigidly with specific examples of best practice, as opposed to the principles that make them valuable, that anything differentiating is lost in the process.

We wrote an article about translating luxury online that might be of interest: http://www.graphicalliance.co.uk/luxury-brand-marketing-10-tips-for-luxury-brands/. Hope no one minds it being shared.

over 2 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Graham,

I think Mr Porter is a good example of luxury done well.

Of course improvements can be made, you can find faults - no site is ever perfect. But what they've done right IMO is to understand the brand and its audience and then focus on delivering content and features that appeal most.

Content marketing is at the heart of the site, driven by an editorial team. The content isn't just about commerce and selling, it's also built around lifestyle stories that reflect the users' interests in the products, brands and designers.

For me luxury is as much about experience as it is about good practice and the two are intrinsically linked. You can't have a great experience if the core UX/UI design is flawed, equally sometimes you have to make a compromise or bold design decision to push the boundaries and be creative. The art of luxury is to inspire, engage and even seduce. Boiler plate good practice just doesn't deliver but you can be creative and underpin it with a robust UX.

Thanks for sharing

James.

over 2 years ago

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Elliot

Nice article. If only a blog about design and usability would provide links to the websites in question

over 2 years ago

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Jane

I think Coach is doing a good job as well, on both the desktop and mobile front, particularly on the product listing pages and product deatail pages. http://www.coach.com

over 2 years ago

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Laure Moyle, Conversion and Insight Manager at Protect your bubble

Good conversation going on here!
Mentioned it in another post, I also like Harvey Nichols approach, especially on their mobile site.
Agree with Naomi too-You can't pull wool over the eyes of users. You've got to invest time and effort and talent and attention to detail to make a difference in how great customer experience it going to be. You've got to test and let users tell you what they like best in terms of usability once you've built your next round of optimisation. And you've got to be tenacious and in for the long run- it's never a finished job as James says above. Yes you need to pay particular attention to imagery quality, colour palette, font choice and layout with a luxury brand site-but it still should not take priority above being useful in my view.

over 2 years ago

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Shahriar Khan, Canada's Top Web Design/SEO/SMM/SME Company! at poweredby247

These are great, but what's the normal workflow for implementing these illustrations? You can only do so much designing in the browser with CSS so are most of these using SVGs?

http://poweredby247.com/

about 2 years ago

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