The retail industry is currently experiencing a massive disruption that affects, more than anything else, brand conversions. Consumer purchasing preferences have changed, and are continuing to do so, at such a dramatic pace that few retailers can keep up.
Luxury fashion brands are altering their lines to be more consumer-focused and making their shows immediately shoppable rather than forcing consumers to wait a full 6 months. Custom brands like Son of a Sailor and FUGOO are expanding their lines onto marketplaces like Amazon and eBay –– in addition to their own online stores and wholesale partnerships with the likes of Best Buy, Anthropologie and West Elm. Once online-only shops like Two Guys Bow Ties are opening up brick-and-mortar locations to increase conversions via Google’s mobile-local push. Plus, having a brick-and-mortar makes up-selling easier, and provides additional space for increased manufacturing.
Here’s the short version of this: commerce has become a crowded industry, and to be truly successful at it is nothing short of artistry. Discoverability is a brand’s most coveted asset, but to be discoverable, you must be where the consumer is. That is not the disruption altering the industry. Brands have always needed to be where their consumers are. What makes this difficult today is that consumers are absolutely everywhere. No longer are consumers silo-ed to individual shopping channels. Today, most consumers use Amazon. They also shop in brick-and-mortars. They also follow brands on social media and then purchase items through branded websites. They also shop on sites like Net-a-Porter or Shopbop, marketplaces in their own right –– though not in the same way as Amazon or eBay.
At Bigcommerce, our belief is that the best way to stand out in a crowded world is to make your own. This is why we partnered with Pixel Union, a web design agency whose themes power tens of thousands of online stores and millions of websites, to design our new Bigcommerce themes. These themes offer the most cutting-edge site design solutions on the market.
The goal is to allow retailers to craft a unique and engaging site that tells their brand’s story in way that resonates, and converts customers. This is how retailers can combat shifting consumer purchasing preferences. These themes empower all Bigcommerce merchants to create their own world and share their point of view in the most aesthetically pleasing way possible, while ensuring their store performs well and helps them grow their business.
How you use these themes is up to you and your team. To help you make the right choices for your brand, we sat down with the team over at Pixel Union to talk about the new themes, which are their favorites and how site design has changed during the course of the last couple years.
Which is your favorite theme out of those offered with the launch of Stencil, and why?
Carlo Franco: I like Chelsea a lot. It’s one of the themes making bolder artistic choices. The demos are really well put together — the visual aesthetic and content mesh well with each other.
Andrew Reynolds: Prosper. It’s the most versatile, the cleanest design. It has everything you need for a certain type of vertical and nothing that you don’t. It’s really pretty, too.
Cory Gibbons: I’d say Venture. It manages to differentiate itself without having any really different features. It’s the best developed theme from a design perspective. Every detail is well developed. Nothing feels out of place. The product filtering feels top notch.
Chris Braniff: I think Showroom turned out very well. I haven’t come across a lot of ecommerce sites with a sidebar like that. It’s simple, clean, really well designed. Great content.
Which design aspects within these new themes contribute to conversion?
Cory: Best practices are really important. We do everything we can to not impair the process of converting — making the buy buttons obvious, the cart experience smooth, etc.
Chris: Making content boxes prominent, having promotional banners, using bright colors and bold typefaces — these are all ways of funneling shoppers toward a sale or collection.
Ben Moore: Experience goes a long way when it comes to designing a theme that converts. Over the years, we’ve designed a ton of themes. We’ve tried many different approaches to ecommerce user experience, and we’ve listened to feedback from thousands of merchants on what works best for their store. All of that practice and insight gets poured into each new theme we produce.
There’s no magic bullet that takes care of every use case — every merchant has a different set of priorities, messages, products — but by defining the target merchant segments for each theme, producing and refining a specific use case and design brief before we kick off, and closely adhering to industry best practices (many of which we’ve helped define), we’re able to release a new theme knowing it’s going to sell products. Everything from the home page presentation, to the presentation of fonts, to the location of the critical calls-to-action (like the buy button) fall under that approach.
What can merchants do to make these themes work to the best of their ability?
Chris: Content is the most important thing. If it’s coming from Pixel Union, you can trust that it’s going to be well designed. The best thing you can do as a merchant is match that design by filling it with carefully chosen content and professional product shots.
Carlo: Good content, always. Spend some time and money doing research, look for stores that inspire you, and look carefully at how they’re setting up their products — lifestyle shots, product shots, things that make the store stand out. It usually comes down to content and photography.
Andrew: One of the best things you can do is have some branding in place. Think about how to carry that across all the pages in a theme. Good photography is also important. I don’t think any of us have shied away from making product photos the centerpiece of all the themes.
Cory: Trust what we’ve given you! As designers, we put a lot of thought and research into these themes. Don’t go against best practices just because you like something different. Also, good photography and good catalog organization.
Do you have any tips for brands in updating or creating their own photography for use on the new themes?
Carlo: Think about where your products will be laid out on your theme. If you’re working with a full-width, high-resolution theme, you want to make sure your images will look sharp. Also, try to get the same composition from shot to shot. If your products are laid out in a grid, your store will look much cleaner and more easily scannable if the size of the images in the grid are the same. If you have two frying pans side by side, they should be the same size.
Andrew: One of the most important things a brand can do is think about who’s buying their products, and in what real-life context those products might be found. With fashion, for example, you can have clothes on a plain white background, but it might also help to show them on a model walking around a city. With health and beauty, the products might look better in the context of a bathroom. Too often, merchants think customers only want to see the product itself. Placing it in actual context helps customers envision buying it and using it.
Are any of the themes you designed created specifically for niche verticals?
Cory: For clothing, shoes and accessories brands, Geneva and Chelsea. The designs are opinionated enough to spark an interest and feel luxurious, while at the same time not distracting from the products themselves. That’s what you want with fashion — a cool design that isn’t invisible, but also isn’t overpowering.
Andrew: Foundry works well for health and beauty. It has that really neutral design that lets you showcase a bunch of products at once. The theme is based heavily around the product grid, so the products take most of the attention. I think that would benefit mid-sized health and beauty brands.
Chris: Spotlight has this great red and black preset, which we designed for the automotive and power sports industries. It’s the opposite of a clothing preset — less precious, less artsy. The spacing is pretty tight and can hold a lot of content. It’s a versatile theme overall.
Carlo: Venture definitely comes to mind for the sporting goods and outdoor industry. It has those bold, customizable colors you want for sporting goods. It supports large catalogs, and the product filtering is implemented really well. There’s room for long navigation. The branding is subtle, not too in your face. It’s laid out so that products take precedence over branding, which I think lends well to sporting goods.
Stay tuned throughout the rest of the week for more information and content about our new themes from Bigcommerce and Pixel Union. In the meantime, leave any questions you might have in the comment section below.