Designing for E-Commerce: Bringing the retail experience into the website design

There are some retail stores that provide such a unique shopping experience that one can not mistake that store for another. These stores have given thought to who their audience is and how to appropriately display the products they are selling. While it’s one thing for a store to master the retail shopping experience, it’s another to bring that same experience to an online shopper.
If you’ve ever walked into an Apple store, you know what I am talking about. Just like the products and product packaging, the retail store is so simple that it creates a powerful statement and a shopping experience that feels like no other. Of course this seamless experience that is brought across the online and mobile experiences as well.

While Apple is a textbook example when it comes to design, I found a few other ecommerce sites that are also doing an excellent job of bringing their retail brand experience into a similar online experience.

apple store

While I can’t say I’ve been in an Abercrombie store in the past few years, I can only hope that the experience still includes blaring music, the heavy smell of Abercrombie for Men fragrance wafting in the air, a half-dressed teenage boy with a 6 pack ready to greet you at the entrance, dark mood lighting, large plants in unusual places, and large black and white images of scantily dressed young adults on a beach. Like it or not, this is a real experience. You know you’re in an Abercrombie store and it appeals to their retail audience. How did they bring this experience online? Luckily the website doesn’t blare music or spurt out cologne, but it is very slick, simple and dark. The same black and white sexy images from the store are used on the website. Technically, there is also still a guy with a 6-pack ready to greet you on the homepage.


Like their competitors Home Depot and Menards, Lowe’s retail experience creates a warehouse feel with concrete floors to make you feel as if you are getting the lowest prices with products straight from a warehouse. It is interesting for me to compare which brand most seamlessly brought this retail experience into the online shopping experience. While Home Depot introduces more design elements such as crate boxes and a wood background, the Menards website is completely stripped of any design elements at all. While the lack of design elements on the Menards site does communicate “warehouse” it also communicates “cheap.” The Lowe’s website was chosen for this example because the design still gives off a simple, stripped-away “warehouse” feel, but it also still has design elements to communicate that it is sophisticated brand, such as gradients on the buttons and on the top of the page.


These aforementioned examples may seem like obvious cases of transitioning strong retail brand equity into an online store design, but unfortunately not all e-commerce sites approach their website design in this way. That being said, not all brands have a differentiating retail experience either. That’s why brands like Apple are so special- the product and retail experience is cohesive throughout the whole customer experience, creating a very strong brand.

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