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Fashion’s Digital Front Door: Comparative Case Studies of Brand Homepages
FSW explores the basic principles of a fashion brand’s website homepage and why taking a strategic rather than tactical approach matters.
Earlier this fall, the fashion world applauded when British heritage brand Burberry unveiled its “refreshed” e-commerce website.
According to a LinkedIn post from the brand, the new site includes “redesigned navigation and playful, experimental interactions [to help] customers explore both [the brand’s] latest collection and [its] heritage pieces, with ease.”
Why the accolades, aside from the updated look and feel?
The new Burberry site has a modern design with a purposeful, story-based approach that is better addressed to user needs. The site has a streamlined information architecture—that is, the mega navigation menu at the top of the page—with only six top-level pages that scaffold down into other sub-categories.
The Burberry site also has a simple, cleanly designed homepage with big visuals and only three components outside of the header and footer. As anyone who has visited the websites of most major fashion or luxury brands can attest, this streamlined yet dynamic homepage web design is highly distinct from the component-rich, product-focused storytelling of almost every other brand.
Digital transformation is obviously idiosyncratic and highly brand-specific. Yet, given the pressures fashion and luxury brands are under to stay relevant and keep up with the always-on world of digital content, what is the continuing relevance of a website homepage? How should fashion and luxury brands think about a homepage to optimize the consumer experience? What should they avoid?
The answer is: A fashion brand website homepage matters, though maybe not for the reason most brands think.
Dissecting a Fashion Digital Front Door
A fashion brand’s homepage is its digital front door. But it’s far from the only door consumers use.
It only takes around 10 seconds for customers to form a judgment about a brand from its website. A website homepage, specifically, performs multiple functions. It is not just about selling products or converting consumers to take action, though those are usually the main functions.
A homepage is a brand perception, a communicative output of a brand’s vision and value proposition, along with its products and other creative enterprises. Every time a consumer pays a visit to a fashion or luxury brand’s website, they make a determination on whether their values match that of the brand or whether what is being sold meets their needs, interests, preferences, and desires.
In this era of live social shopping and AI-driven search, a strong homepage is an essential part of any fashion brand’s digital presence. While brands should approach building a homepage in a way that reflects their vision and product, most fashion brands take a heavy sales and product focus to their digital front door, moving away from more editorial or conceptual approaches that may appear elsewhere on social media and other content channels.
When considering digital transformation or experience optimization, a fashion or luxury brand should decide if they want to adopt a product-driven or story-based approach. These approaches can overlap yet identifying a clear vision and methodology can avoid confusing consumers and, in turn, ensure a more consistent, meaningful experience.
Styling a Fashion Homepage
Like all digital design, creating an intuitive fashion homepage experience that invites consumers to explore, shop, and come back is tricky. The idea of “i-commerce” instead of “e-commerce” is all about building a more personalized digital experience centered around meeting user needs rather than broadcasting brand values and products.
Yet, what defines a strong fashion homepage for one brand may not work for another. However there are some basic homepage principles that brand executives can follow to get measurably better results and improve conversion rates.
To make a long story short, developing or optimizing a fashion brand homepage is the result of a deep collaboration between brand digital teams, UX/UI designers, and a good development team, and is preferably spearheaded by an experienced content strategist who understands the mechanics of information architecture, taxonomy, and content modeling.
Here are some tips for fashion and luxury brands to consider if they want to update the look and feel of their website homepage, while improving page performance and overall site traffic:
Start with a clear value proposition
Some fashion and luxury brand homepages miss out on opportunities to communicate their unique brand vision, either through an excessively minimalist approach or through being too product-focused. Showcasing brand vision is not something that needs to be done through copy but rather through focused storytelling that showcases what the brand is about and how it is distinct within the fashion and luxury market.
A full-screen, splash video is one way that some fashion and luxury brands choose to communicate brand vision. The Loro Piana website is one example of this approach. Video is an easy way to tell a story in a dynamic way. Yet, full-screen video homepage hero components are not always the best approach, especially given screen load times, accessibility issues, and short user attention spans.
From a design perspective, a hyper-minimalist approach may feel “luxury.” From a user experience perspective, however, this type of design approach depends not only on an assumption of consumer brand recognition but also on their ability to know how to quickly find what they want.
For a shopper who’s just browsing, product-centric homepages can be challenging, as they may not feel personalized or easy to navigate through. This is why many modern consumers start their shopping journey on other channels like Instagram and TikTok because they automatically provide a more customized approach that is more likely to be more or less targeted to their interests and preferences.
Optimize for authenticity, not SEO
A popular belief is that brands will fail on customer engagement if they do not properly optimize website content for SEO with appropriate keywords and targeting. While this is true to an extent, the world of digital content and search engines is rapidly changing.
AI-powered search algorithms offer the possibility to improve processes, delivering search results that are more personalized, efficient, and personalized. For instance, Google’s RankBrain utilizes machine learning to decipher and learn about user intentions and, in turn, spin out more relevant search results.
Over time, the now-common SEO philosophy of stacking a brand’s high-level website content with search-engine-friendly content will necessarily evolve, particularly the practice of front-loading specific keywords in a specific order or headers written in a certain way. With the advent of AI-powered search, website content will become a matter of producing authentic brand content in natural, compelling language that has a unique footprint and identifier set apart from other brands.
In the context of a fashion or luxury brand’s homepage, this means pages now may need to include more targeted storytelling and unique copy to teach the search engine about a brand’s differentiators. For brands that think the future of digital content is AI, think again. AI-enabled search algorithms can now distinguish between bot-written content and human-written content and will deprioritize it.
As we often say, AI will not solve your content problems; content strategy will.
Take a user needs-based approach, backed by real data on users’ unique journeys, needs, and preferences
In the world of e-commerce, most fashion and luxury brands with an extant content marketing strategy are highly concerned about conversion rates, product campaign effectiveness, and digital spend on their website and social media channels. Yet, many of these brands lack a deep understanding of who their users actually are, how they shop and journey across brand content touchpoints, and what their needs and preferences are.
The story gets more complicated in the arena of fashion and luxury brand websites, as brands struggle to marry a data-focused mindset with the creative-driven brand enterprise that is fashion. This challenge often results in e-commerce websites that heavily lean into either a brand-focused or product-focused mindset, which can obfuscate the user journey for consumers. Although, as noted above, some brands are beginning to take a slightly different tack.
In addition to identifying idealized target audiences, fashion and luxury brands need to spend quality time with their customer data on a regular basis, diving deep into the actual shopping journeys of their users and what they come to the site site to do. Where are current consumers spending time? What content are they digesting? Where are they getting stuck? How do they travel across and interact with pages, products, and ideas across a brand’s site ecosystem and other channels?
In the context of a fashion or luxury brand website homepage, content needs to be clear, directional, and authentic. Think about storytelling down the page, across pages within the site, and holistically across content touchpoints. A fashion or luxury brand website homepage needs to align brand vision with customer value through merging visual appeal, storytelling, exclusivity, and credibility. Each component plays a role in guiding the customer down the marketing funnel, from awareness to consideration, decision, and loyalty.
The Bottomline of Digital Experience and Content Strategy
Many fashion and luxury brands think that it easier to drop budget on the latest AI-driven CRM or CMS tool to add to an already overinflated tech stack than to spend time optimizing digital strategy. Plugging in a tool feels more straightforward than spending time figuring out how to optimize digital spend through strategy across channels.
Yet, in the shorter term, even the best CMS platform on the market won’t help you market your products to the right audiences on the right channels if you don’t have a solid content strategy behind it. In the longer term, your brand is losing money through having diffuse approaches to content across channels, never mind siloing and duplicative processes and tools for content planning, operations, and management between internal teams.
Investment in digital transformation to optimize your website won’t matter if you don’t have a content strategy behind it. It’s like trying to sail a boat with only a ship frame and no crew.
If your brand has the budget to play around with AI tools for your content marketing, then you need to make time to think about effective content strategy and the architecture, flow, and meaning of the content on your site.
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