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I want to browse your brand

22 September 2008

Hermes website

One wise old editor at my company is sceptical about websites. Whenever he gets into a discussion about redesigning, upgrading or reformulating a magazine’s site, he always asks “do you really want a website?” This is, of course, a rhetorical question; it does not expect a response. It is therefore quickly followed by a similar question: “Why do you want a website?”

If the first question befuddles the colleague he is addressing, the second stops them dead. For the first answer seems obvious; the second has never really occurred to them.

Few magazine editors ask themselves why they want or need a website. And this leads to muddled approach when they put their magazine online. Fashion brands are no different.

Most brands’ websites will tell you where their shops are, how to contact them and give you a flavour of the collections. But often the collections are merely represented through advertising campaigns – which can be obscure to say the least. Kilgour is a good example: beautiful, shadowy images, but little clue as to what the clothes look like. An online shopping element has been added recently, but this is just accessories.

Some brands happily display their wares, attractively photographer, but stop there. Many of the classic shoemakers do this. Edward Green, for example, will take you through a small number of shoe models. But there is little beyond a short biography to give you a sense of what Edward Green is or what it stands for.

You may argue that this suits Edward Green – simple, modest. But even a display of the major lasts, or of the elements of shoe quality, would help (both of which you have been able to get at various times as leaflets in the shop). And luxury brands suffer from the same problem – Dunhill.com is dull, pedestrian, communicating nothing of its rich history and philosophy to those shoppers who are not within easy reach of a store.

The fact is, a modern brand’s website needs both these things – stock and philosophy. Just like in a store, I need to be able to see the merchandise easily, attractively, and get a sense of the brand. The designers of luxury goods stores spend a lot of money making sure the décor, the staff, the mannequins and everything else in a shop tells the customer what this brand is, what it stands for.

Because they are just brands. More and more today these companies are simply brands that one associates with a package of images, ideas and aspirations. To make them unique, to make sure people know the difference between Canali and Corneliani, to make sure they know why John Lobb shoes cost so much more than Gucci, to make sure no one thinks Sartoriani is a Savile Row tailor, each one has to differentiate in every way they can. And websites are one of the most important ways to do this – particularly today, when brands want to reach out to consumers scattered across the world.

You need to be able to browse a website, like you do a shop. Gucci is quite good, with videos and runway shows. But Hermes is the best in my opinion. Go to Hermes.com and click on the on-line boutique to browse products, or travel the world of Hermes to browse the brand. It makes Hermes seem unique, playful, luxurious. All brands need a site like this you can browse.