With the recent purchase of a new urban bachelor pad, I needed to furnish and decorate an entire house. Welcome West Elm, launched in 2002 as part of the Williams-Sonoma chain to provide "unique furniture and accessories for modern living." With an empty house and a deadline looming, I set out to order furniture for the bedroom, living room and loft while reviewing a Web site in the process.
Aside from the search function on WestElm.com, there is only one way to shop: by general category. By limiting the ways in which its visitors can shop, the company could be missing out on sales. One of the most important elements needed to succeed in e-commerce is the ability to please different types of shoppers; this means offering different ways to shop on a Web site.
Popular ways to shop include by price, top-selling products, size, or something custom-tailored to your site's products or industry, such as style. By offering multiple ways to shop, you're broadening the range of visitors that you're going to please when they come to your site, resulting in increased conversions and a more pleasurable shopping experience.
West Elm recently has done a good job improving its images so it reflects the refreshingly vibrant tones of its retail print catalog. Print catalogs and their respective Web sites have the ability to strongly complement each other and drive high conversions and increased sales. If there's a connection between the two, the transition from print to Web and vice versa certainly will be seamless. Going from the rich, vibrant pages of the catalog to the dull grays of the Web site might discourage a visitor expecting the qualities of the catalog to shine through in the Web site.
Previously, WestElm.com had a monochromatic tone throughout, and that had a negative impact on its usability. Although the company recently has made its site more vibrant in general, its calls to action still lack the appearance of standing out as the most obvious action to take. When West Elm used such a strict color tone throughout, it lost its ability to draw customer's attention to one part of the site or another. Now the site has gained this, but it still has more ground to cover when it comes to calls to action.
A product image says a thousand words. In the case of WestElm.com, its images do a great job of holding true to this saying. One all-important aspect of product images that many e-tailers miss is the fact that your images should tell a story -- show them in use, not on a warehouse floor, and certainly don't use a boring manufacturer's stock image.
By showing the items in use, WestElm.com does a great job of stirring up product-inspired ideas and emotions. Visitors immediately connect the story told in the image to one of their own.
Internal site search
Type a term into the search box on WestElm.com and you'll be pleasantly surprised with the results, which include images, pricing and the product name with a link to the product page.
However, the real benefit of WestElm.com's site search is in the drill-downs present in the left column of the results page. They show the number of products within a given category and also serve to narrow down the original search results. The ability to better find what you're looking for through search -- whether it be a general category or a specific product -- adds greatly to the site's usability.
The negative effects of a monochromatic color scheme are apparent on WestElm.com's shopping cart page and throughout the checkout process. The "remove" button appears too prominently on the page, while the "proceed to checkout" is tucked away at the bottom right, nearly indistinguishable from the rest of the elements because of its dull color tone and poor placement.
Where WestElm.com's shopping cart shines is in the visibility of the shipping price. Clearly displaying a link to a page that outlines WestElm.com's shipping policies and, more importantly, prices, is an essential best practice that should be carried out in all shopping carts. This is one of the most important factors in reducing shopping-cart abandonment. If a visitor can see what she'll have to pay for shipping before filling out her personal information, she can make a better judgment as to whether she wants to go through with the purchase. If she doesn't see the shipping until halfway through the checkout, she could experience sticker shock and not make the purchase; but more importantly, she could leave with a negative opinion of the brand.
WestElm.com's entire homepage, with the exception of the footer, is image-based. This makes it more difficult for search engines to find their way into deeper links within the site and gives less weight to the keyword terms that represent those links. Internal links must be text-based to be most effective from an SEO standpoint -- something that WestElm.com fails to accomplish on its homepage. Furthermore, the URLs throughout the site are not search-friendly; instead of being short, keyword-based URLs, they are long query strings. This most certainly has a negative impact on SEO for WestElm.com.
WestElm.com does a nice job of presenting its products in a way that engages site visitors and makes them think about how they can use the products in their homes. In addition, its internal site search makes it easy for users to find the specific products, or type of products, that they're looking for. Where WestElm.com lacks is in presenting its customers with various ways to shop, search engine friendliness and in differentiating specific calls to action.
While WestElm.com scores high in design elements and product presentation, there definitely is room for improving both its traffic and customer experience by focusing on best practices in search engine optimization and a redesign of the checkout process.
Reach Ethan Giffin at firstname.lastname@example.org