Collete vs J.Crew. Online Store Fronts.

The other night while I was researching on the net, I came across the  online store front for “Colette”. Since I have no prior history with the brand, product line or reputation my  reaction to their online store after clicking around a bit was, “this makes me believe that there is an even more compelling bricks and mortar store out there, and I’d like to see it”.

So I while digging around, I started chatting with a friend online, and that friend asked me what is it you like so much about this e-shop as compared to others online clothing retailers?  One of my favorite online retailers for navigation, browsing etc. is J.Crew. So I decided to do a little comparison shopping between J.Crew and Colette to try to figure out what had got me all excited about it.

When you look at each site, it is fair to say each site is designed particularly well for their target audience. The J.Crew site targets a slightly more affluent individual. The age range leaning to young professional or college student. While Colette is focused on a younger trend focused audience. Keeping this in mind is important because it allows us to remove the user segmentation, and focus on design, branding and the compelling reason to make the trip to the actual store. Both sites are good, they’re just different.

Now as I was clicking around on the Colette site, there were some observations worth noting that I didn’t find on the J.Crew site. Things that are worth thinking about.

Up until the last ten years or so physical stores didn’t have much of an online presence. On the other hand you have Amazon which isn’t pretty but you can buy almost anything online very quickly, Amazon doesn’t have any physical assets like a storefront, but they are and have been the 800 pound gorilla of online shopping for the last 12 years. In today’s interconnected world stores like J.Crew understand that an easy online presence is going to help their online sales front immensely. They also realize that by developing an easy to use online store, their website will generate ass much revenue as two to three large physical stores over the course of a year. (and this number continues to rise year over year) As someone who likes to shop online, I have to say the J.Crew site is so clean and easy to use, you have to ask the question why would you bother ever going to their physical store again? This might seem like a strange rational but when you compare it to the Colette site you are placed in a position where find yourself in a non frustrating  exploratory situation, one that makes you say “I’d be really curious to see what their physical store is like”. It’s an reversal of the offline and online retailer. The physical store front is going to try to squeeze their brand experience into the digital space while the digital store front tries to create a compelling reason to go to the physical store. Bottom line, if you have a physical bricks and mortar store, you want people to come in and shop. If your website doesn’t make shoppers want to do this then you lose.

Here are a couple of other distinctions that I noticed while looking at these two sites. J.Crew is essential an online extension of the mail order catalog. This is fitting since J.Crew has a deep history with the mail order business model. Colette on the other hand is emphasizing a lifestyle, and they are using the lifestyle brand component to create a level of curiosity. Curiosity that makes you want to see what the physical store front is all about.  A common rule of thumb is that most web sites should avoid music but with Collete it drew me in.  Their music choice makes a statement about what they like, and what their brand stands for. More over it would appeal to their target audience. In addition Collete’s brand and product line is magnified with the choice of interrelated products, while J.Crew is stuck showing all their stuff together. (Maybe it’s just me but a person should rarely dress head to foot in the same brand of clothing.) But that’s all J.Crew can push.

So if we take a bunch of elements like exploration + music + lifestyle + product variation & it is presented in a way that makes you want to visit their store, it beats out what is essentially an online catalog, with minimal hooks to a physical store presence. And that is why I think the Collete site works and why it drew me in.