Business

Searching for the Perfect Product Page

The product page—that all-important detail page on an ecommerce site where you purchase a product—is an undervalued content format. I see a huge variety of them nowadays but only a few really good ones, and bad practices are rampant. I’ve posted before about what I think matters in a product page (in brief: high-quality photos, clarity, personality and shareability), and thought I’d share a few examples of good ones I’ve come across in the wild recently.

1. Huckberry

Huckberry is “like your favorite store and magazine rolled into one.” They sell adventure gear and manly things (without ever using that qualifier) and have some people really very excited. They won me over enough to sign up for their “awesome + infrequent email” with some content of theirs that someone I know somewhere shared about two of my favorite things: furniture design and Block Island. Their product pages contain lots of information and lots of photos—both close-up product shots and editorial “lifestyle” photos of the product in action—all laid out like a blog post, with blocks of text broken up by eye-catching imagery.

Huckberry: Topo Trip Pack

They generally start with the story of the brand behind the product (in this case, a great one I first discovered on Wanelo), which gives you some context and sets you up to care about the details. Then they get into the product specs in between some action shots, and often devote a paragraph to why they love the thing. The latter section usually contains some useful information, like in the case of this Topo Designs Trip Pack:

Why we love this:

It’s the perfect travel bag (and perfect Travel Bag companion). It fits under the seat on a plane, or it’s great for carrying a few things while tooling around town or on the trail. It’s got all the functionality of a daypack in a light, compact size. The Trip Bag features an external zippered pocket and an internal sleeve with zippered pocket that’s perfect for an iPad or travel journal. Best of all it works with the Travel Bag by simply hooking the integrated webbing loops to the aluminum hooks on the front. The hooks allow both bags to be carried at once and disassembled when you reach your destination.

At the bottom of the post, after you’ve scrolled down and thought about the product from a few different angles, they tell you your estimated delivery date so you can get an immediate sense of when it can be yours, followed by the return policy in one sentence. Finally, the buy button and price is always in its own clear section, bold and large and above the product content.

2. The Line

The Line is another online store that takes content very seriously, inviting readers/shoppers to “contemplate a future of objects that inspire and refine you.” They do this also with a physical location in Soho called The Apartment, because “storied objects gain new meaning and greater dimension through context.” Their product pages are marked by very large photos, colorful and concise copy, clearly presented details, and a prominent photo and link to rich original editorial content about the product’s maker when available. The copy scrolls with you as you pore over the photos.

The Line: Straight Champagne Glasses

Like Huckberry, The Line also sells things that are readily available elsewhere online, like Mountain Ocean’s Skin Trip moisturizer and boxes and rocks from New York boutique Creel and Gow. They present these things beautifully, in a way that makes you want to share them, whereas Creel and Gow for example sells some fascinating things on their own website but in a way that actually prevents me from linking to them in order to tell you about them (no visible URLs for products!).

3. More & Co.

More & Co., a little shop out of Maine with a first-class website, sells some nice things online with some of the most striking product pages around. Huge, full-width images; personable, concise copy; lots of related products; prominent location information and a link to some clear policies make their product pages shine and rise above the noise.

More & Co.: Wax Crayon Set

More & Co.’s attention to their photos really helps them stand out. If you take awesome, shareable product photos and present them well, you are honestly about 90% of the way to selling things successfully online.

Addendum

It strikes me now that these examples all come from small, boutique-type stores that carefully curate their product selection, take pride in creating original content (note the footer on More & Co.) and sell things from other brands, and it seems to me these kind of stores represent the highest level of innovation in this space right now, naturally. Their energy goes entirely into packaging this stuff well online, with great big photos and content worth scrolling for.

Cool Stores

I’m inspired by the stores I’ve been finding lately. I’ve written about cool independent stores before, but the frequency of my encounters with them has increased dramatically and the stores have been getting more international. Most of them I find through Wanelo; a few via Instagram. I’m unsure how people discover cool stores elsewhere on the internet currently, other than the occasional Google search and clicks within the walls of marketplaces.

Nine products from nine of these cool stores:

· Laikingland sells finely crafted kinetic objects, and creepy ones like these disembodied drumming fingers.

· CKIE, pronounced “seeky,” is the ecommerce extension of Yanko Design web magazine (blog). It’s named after Ruth Noller’s symbolic equation for creativity, C=f(K,I,E), which holds that creativity (C) is a function of knowledge (K), imagination (I) and evaluation (E). They sell the kind of eye-catching things people like to share on the internet.

· More & Co. is a bright, designy shop and creative studio in Portland, Maine. Well aware of the importance of visuals in this game, their product photos are huge.

· Portland, Maine also happens to be the homebase of another favorite coolstore: Wary Meyers. Their blog is as interesting as their store (almost one and the same, as with a lot of these stores), and has so far led me to track down and watch at least three movies almost solely for the furniture: Play It Again, Sam (Woody Allen in San Francisco!), Emmanuelle (more stylish than I remembered it from Showtime in the ’80s) and Model Couple (1977), which really resonates these days:

· Generalgood is “an online store that stocks a diverse range of products from around the world, designed for life, crafted with care and built to last.” These include 1960s-style digital radios and hermetic bottle resealers. Sort of on their way to becoming a British Best Made Company.

· See also Labour and Wait, who “believe in a simple, honest approach to design, where quality and utility are intrinsic.” Think giant aluminum dustpans, bright tool bags and Stanley steel pocket flasks.

· Everyday Needs is yet another store “for people who want to make informed decisions in their consumption, ensuring that what they get is not only good-looking, but is carefully manufactured and with a quality that will last the test of time.” They sell many beautiful, useful objects out of New Zealand.

· And The Minimalist out of Sydney is “all about beauty, quality and style with a handmade touch.” They can make you want to buy paper weights and magnetic towers.

· LN-CC stands for “LATE NIGHT CHAMELEON CAFE” in all caps and is a far-out-looking store space (see below) in London with a mystical library, clothes and records you can peruse in person by appointment.

At first glance, the LN-CC site looks like many high-end fashion stores, but they grabbed hold of my attention with their excellent book selection which includes at least one category close to my heart (1970s utopian living classics OMG).

· Flatspot is another legit store in England (Devon) selling some hard-to-find kicks.

· Marchandise of Montreal sells “carefully picked objects of desire,” photographed against bright backgrounds that stand out around the internet.

MARCHANDISE

· Papa Foxtrot is a toy company dedicated to the modern marvels of infrastructure, teaching the world about satellites and container ships. Their toys are now stocked in Paul Smith stores, among other places around the planet.

GEOTAIL by Papa Foxtrot

Incidentally, a Paul Smith store in London is also hosting an exhibition featuring another coolstore all-time fave: das programm.

· Finally, MODULE R is a highly likeable store out of Brooklyn specializing in “customizable, interactive and modular” objects.

These stores are like blogs or editorial operations that sell things, and sometimes pay rent. Shopping online is finally starting to feel like the entertainment it is in the real world.

So You Want to Sell Products On the Internet

Great! It’s getting dramatically easier to do so every few months, and the playing field keeps getting leveled.

There’s also a rapidly evolving set of best practices worth paying attention to, whether you’re a small independent seller or giant global retail organization.

First off, accept that the products you post online are going to be reposted, saved, shared, commented on and recontextualized by people using a variety of services and devices, if you’re successful. They’ll be stripped of the context of your store, as people are increasingly taking control of their content, including products found online. The products of yours that get reposted will become beacons leading new customers to your store, and you don’t have to pay anyone to get them there. (How often do you click on ads?) You just have to sell products that people think are worth sharing. And people really like to share.

Here’s what I would be sure to do if I was opening a new store online right now (and I just might):

1. Make a nice About page

People want to get some idea of who they’re buying from; it’s only natural. Include pictures of your face or team members’ faces and note your physical location in the world. Offer contact information and a real email address, not just a set of form fields. Pictures of your workspace, storefront or office are great. So is a full address. So is a paragraph or two about why you’re selling these things. Here’s a recent favorite About page.

All about MODULE-R, Brooklyn, NY

2. Take compelling photos of your products, and do not underestimate their importance

Photos are everything, almost, in this increasingly visual internet world. Make your product photos interesting and the kind of thing people will want to share and collect. Buying will happen in the midst of all that sharing and collecting. Photograph your product with a hand holding it. Here’s a classic Etsy blog post on the subject.

It’s worth spending time on this.

Remember cameras?

3. Write your copy with people in mind, not search engines

You want your products to be shared by people, which will help with search engines, but people will not share things that are written for robots. Be conversational, direct, detailed and vivid. Write the kind of copy people will want to copy and paste when they share your product because it strikes them as humorous, surprising or fascinating.

(I didn't write this copy.)

4. Make your shipping and return policy simple and prominent

Try to anticipate the questions people will have. Write these policies directly, like you’re talking to a friend. Keep them as brief as possible. Link to them from your product pages.

5. Juice up your product pages with metadata

You want Google, Facebook, Wanelo, Twitter and other platforms to know that your products are products, so that they can present them as products. I would use Facebook Open Graph tags and/or Wanelo tags. Schema.org tags (supported by Google) and Twitter cards are also worth your while. Here’s a good article about this with easy-to-use templates.

How to Build Your Own Living Structures

For example, if I were selling a collectible copy of Ken Isaacs’ How to Build Your Own Living Structures (1974) (I just bought one after years of searching, so I won’t be, but for the sake of argument), I would include all this in the <head> of my product page’s HTML:

    <head>
    ...
      <meta property="og:title" content="How to Build Your Own Living Structures by Ken Isaacs (1974)" />
      <meta property="og:description" content="A very collectible vintage instructional book from the 1970s." />
      <meta property="og:type" content="product" />
      <meta property="og:url" content="http://www.example.com/product/12345" />
      <meta property="og:site_name" content="Cool New Store" />
      <meta property="og:price:amount" content="75.00" />
      <meta property="og:price:currency" content="USD" />
      <meta property="og:availability" content="instock" />

      <meta property="wanelo:product:name" content="How to Build Your Own Living Structures by Ken Isaacs (1974)" />
      <meta property="wanelo:product:price" content="75.00" />
      <meta property="wanelo:product:price:currency" content="USD" />
      <meta property="wanelo:product:availability" content="InStock" />
      <meta property="wanelo:product:url" content="http://www.example.com/product/12345"  />

      <meta name="twitter:card" value="product" />
      <meta name="twitter:domain" value="example.com" />
      <meta name="twitter:title" value="How to Build Your Own Living Structures by Ken Isaacs (1974)" />
      <meta name="twitter:description" value="A very collectible vintage instructional book from the 1970s." />
      <meta name="twitter:image" content="http://example.com/product/image.jpg" />
      <meta name="twitter:url" value="http://www.example.com/product/12345">
      <meta name="twitter:data1" value="$75.00" />
      <meta name="twitter:label1" value="USD" />
      <meta name="twitter:data2" value="0" />
      <meta name="twitter:label2" value="Available" />
    ...
    </head>

And these Schema.org tags in the HTML body of my product page:

    <body>
    ...
      <div itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Product">
        <meta itemprop="name" content="How to Build Your Own Living Structures by Ken Isaacs (1974)" />
        <meta itemprop="url" content="http://www.example.com/product/12345" />
        <span itemprop="description">A very collectible vintage instructional book from the 1970s.</span>
      </div>
      <div itemprop="offers" itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Offer">
        <span itemprop="price">$75.00</span>
        <meta itemprop="priceCurrency" content="USD" />
        <meta itemprop="availability" itemtype="http://schema.org/ItemAvailability"
        content="http://schema.org/InStock" />
      </div>
    ...
    </body>

6. Just say yes to canonical URLs

Canonical URLs on your product pages will ensure that your products get indexed efficiently. They’re Good for Google, Good for Wanelo, Good for Business ™. They’re good for any new platforms that emerge in the future. These platforms all want a single, primary URL to link to your product, even if many different permutations of your URL can get people there, because they don’t want to create duplicate links to your products and waste everyone’s time.

How does it work? Just include a line like this with the simplest version of your product’s URL in the <head> of your product pages’ HTML:

<link rel="canonical" href="http://example.com/product/12345" />

Then, if your website is one that creates different URLs for pages based on how people navigate to them, or if you append various parameters to your URLs for tracking purposes, external platforms will still be able to point to your products effectively.

7. Treat visitors on mobile devices differently than visitors on desktop computers, and vice versa

This doesn’t mean use different URLs for these two cases (in fact, do not do that if you want to be successful). Just detect the customer’s browser user agent and optimize the experience for the kind of device they’re on.

You may end up with a lot of people posting and sharing your products from their phones. Those posts will be consumed by people on desktop computers. Don’t send those desktop users sitting there with their wallets handy to the mobile version of your website—it will feel broken to them and they won’t buy your product. Instead, try and use a single website that adapts intelligently to the different devices visitors use to view your content.

8. Keep your product pages up, forever

After all this, when your products sell out because they’re so incredibly shareable, note that they’re sold but don’t give up on the interested visitors who keep landing there thanks to the links you acquired. Give them options. If possible, give them a way to tell you that they are interested in the product—it feels productive for them and will be valuable for you. Then you can alert them when the product becomes available again. Best Made Company and ModCloth are both doing this well.

Or, show them lots of related products to check out, as on these new intensive sold-out Etsy listing pages:

A new sold-out view on Etsy

Of course, there’s a whole lot more to selling online, but these are some of the things I often see missing out there in the wide, diverse world of ecommerce websites.

Please Don’t Use the S-word

I was interviewed by Sandi MacPherson the other day for Quibb, which is gradually growing into something really great. Here’s the post and here’s the repost:

WANELO WANELO WANELO

What are you working on? What does your role entail?

Wanelo is a catalog of products organized by people. Members post products that they think are worth sharing, and those products get bought, saved, collected, tagged and sent to friends by other members. It’s growing very fast and is addictive to both build and use, and to read what members have to say about it.

I joined in May of this year and we immediately set out to rewrite, redesign, rebuild, rebrand and relaunch the service. That relaunch happened in late June, and since then we’ve managed to grow the value of the product and all the key numbers, and launch an iOS app that’s been climbing the charts (#8 in Lifestyle and #66 overall at the moment, not that I’m checking constantly or anything) [Ed.: #3 and #49 now, and version 2.0 just launched, but anyways]. We’re about to launch a version for Android.

My role entails a lot of prioritizing, analyzing, designing, writing, making, refining, guiding, testing, editing, synthesizing, hiring (world-class product designers wanted!) and engaging in heated debates with Deena, the founder.

What are your favorite tech/startup news sites and blogs?

I still find Hacker News to be the best filter for what’s going on out there, though it’s not as good as it used to be. A VC is an old standby. Chris Dixon’s blog is always worth your time. Platformed is a recent entrant I’ve been giving a chance. And I’m getting sucked into Quibb!

What is the most innovative company right now in the social commerce space?

A lot of the notable commerce startups that come to mind are working on making selling incredibly easy, like Gumroad, Ribbon and ShopLocket. They’re built to allow people to use existing networks (like Facebook and Twitter) to sell, which is great for some sellers. I like the simplicity they’re aiming for.

There are actually a lot of people doing interesting things around commerce, but I honestly look more toward non-commerce services for guidance right now. At Wanelo, we’ve learned more from Instagram and Tumblr than any commerce site.

Many commerce sites set out to “add a social layer” and the result is inauthentic and ineffective. But that “social part” — enabling real discovery and growing the kind of community where transactions can flourish — is a lot more challenging than facilitating transactions in some ways. At the same time, non-commerce networks often have a hard time when it comes time to make money. Maybe the ideal scenario is a commerce-oriented network that focuses on the social aspect first?

You spent a few years at Etsy — what did you learn there that you’ve been able to apply at Wanelo? What hasn’t been applicable?

I learned a ton about product design and development at Etsy, as well as community management, as well as Greek, beer-brewing, dog breeds and craft techniques :) Many of the things we try and do at Wanelo — designing in code, iterating quickly, experimenting continuously, pushing to production frequently, making use of feature flags, questioning assumptions, being open and communicative with members — are things that became ingrained in me at Etsy.

The main difference between the two experiences is that Etsy is a much larger company than Wanelo, and with large companies quite a lot of energy becomes focused internally rather than externally. When a company is small enough for everyone to fit comfortably in the same room, and you’re all racing in the same direction and staring at the same numbers, different dynamics apply. You “do” more than talk. Some of the things I learned at Etsy about getting things done at a large company are not applicable at Wanelo (yet).

Social products are built on networks — friends (Facebook), close friends (Path), professional colleagues (LinkedIn), etc. Do networks exist for social commerce? How are they different and/or similar?

Commerce-oriented social networks exist — I helped build one at Etsy — but I think they have a long way to go. Many of the existing ones are populated largely by sellers. Unlike the examples you mention, there are usually two distinct roles in commerce-oriented networks: sellers and buyers. Sellers are often much more motivated and engaged, because they’re making money and have more of themselves invested in the system. The buyer perspective gets drowned out, which is one of the core deficiencies I find in a lot of marketplaces today.

A good, robust network populated by buyers that enables commerce and is untainted by spamminess is not easy to build. (But it’s a lot of fun to try :)

What do you see as the key benefits of social shopping, from the perspectives of both shoppers and merchants?

I think the act of shopping for the kind of unique or unusual products that people feel are worth sharing is so inherently social that qualifying it with “social” feels weird. It’s like saying talking is social. People are the best path to these products, because they aren’t things you search for specifically. When people discover these products, they share them with other people. And the internet is enabling this at a grand scale.

A platform for this kind of shopping gets out of the way of the users, and doesn’t talk down to them with heavy-handed merchandising or intricate product taxonomies. It’s about helping people help each other out (whether they’re conscious of it or not), and letting the good things happen.

From the shopper’s perspective, the benefit of this kind of platform is in the thrill of discovery, and the sharing of those discoveries, which is addictive and life-enhancing.

From the merchant’s perspective, the benefit is sales, and the opportunity to engage with customers as peers. Many of the merchants behind these products really don’t have the time, budget or expertise to fully figure out marketing on this conversational medium we use called the internet. Their energy goes into making the cool things that they sell.

Luckily for everyone, it’s easier than ever to discover and sell these things.

Some comments over on Quibb.

Small Stores, Big Ideas

I discover a lot of small independent stores through Wanelo. These are relatively small operations, larger than your average Etsy shop or eBay business, but much smaller than your average corporation or retail operation with more than one address. You might call them boutiques, but they’re quite different from what that word conjures up on sites like FarFetch. They have a ton of personality, sell a wide variety of things, often have a physical address but primarily exist on their own domain online, and write copy about their products in a way that happens to be highly entertaining to read. Sometimes they make their products and sometimes they source them, and they always tell you the details of how they sourced them and from whom. They’re curators, to use a word I can barely stomach now.

Best Made Company is probably the canonical example of this type of store in my head. I discovered them before I started working on Wanelo, and now regularly open their emails and get excited about new offerings they come up with, like the Less Is Muir patch and the Shawl Neck Sweater Coat they created in collaboration with Dehen. They have a really strong brand with strong values, and as a consequence people pay attention to the things they choose to sell and why. I was pretty excited about the books they chose to sell when I first discovered them, as it seemed like a sort of cross-section of old DIY wilderness faves last featured in the Whole Earth Catalog.

Less Is Muir from Best Made Co

You can read about how Best Made came about here. They have ~24K followers at the moment on Wanelo.

Occulter is a new Wanelo discovery and the inspiration for this post. They’re based in New York and sell a lot of fascinating things.

Their Binchotan Toothbrush is blended with Binchotan charcoal powder, which is apparently “known to radiate negative ions, has a powerful deodorizing effect, removes plaque and attacks the causes of bad breath.” Occult dental products pretty much have my attention right away.

Binchotan toothbrush from Occulter

They also sell a sharp-looking Smith & Wesson pen, which is something I’m surprised I’ve never heard referenced before in rap lyrics.

Smith & Wesson pen from Occulter

And they sell these Woolly Mammoth ivory razors with quartz lenses featuring vintage micro-photography.

Mammoth straight razor from Occulter

Plus: very, very dark honey sourced from a beekeeper in Schenectady.

Occulter Black Honey

And, the perfect gift for any former philosophy major: Platonic solids!

Platonic Solids from Occulter

And these are just the things I’ve saved to my Wanelo.

ThinkGeek is another store of this dimension I’ve come into a lot more contact with since Wanelo, most recently with these rare earth magnets.

Rare Earth Magnets

You could even consider making your own. How? It’s very simple! You just find yourself a nice chunk of some Misch metal from the Earth’s substrate, then carefully extract any Neodymium, purify it, mold it, coat it in a small amount of nickel, and then wrap some plastic around it in the shape of a thumbtack.

They have ~118K followers at the moment on Wanelo.

Opulent Items is another store of this type. Operated out of Miami, I would probably never have come into contact with the astounding products they sell if it weren’t for Wanelo, where they have over 100K followers.

And there’s many more, like Fred Flare, straight out of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, with ~118K followers on Wanelo. And MoMAStore, RISDworks, Selekkt, Photojojo, Buy Olympia, House 8810, Moon Marble, Hammacher, Uncommon Goods, Poketo, Present and Correct, Street Market, FriendsWithYou, MollaSpace, Little Paper Planes, The Future Perfect, Totokaelo, Solitary Arts, Matter and others.

The point is that there’s a fast-growing audience for products worth sharing, and a rapidly expanding definition of what that entails.

Sharing vs. Selling

C.R.E.A.M. by esymai on Etsy

So if sharing online is about validation, what if the objects being shared are for sale, and you stand to benefit from their sale? Does money always ruin it?

There is a lot of sharing and curating going on of objects that are available for sale somewhere. See Svpply, Fancy, Pinterest, large swaths of Tumblr, Polyvore, Delicious, Wanelo. Users of services like these are gaining followers and influence, expressing and discovering themselves, and having fun, but they aren’t benefiting financially from their curation. Some would say it would be a conflict of interest for them to do so, or would result in less compelling content. Or take the fun out of it. Or feel spammy.

The discouragement of self-promotion is one reason why Pinterest works so well, and why it’s often more compelling to follow someone’s favorites on Etsy than it is to follow the items they’re selling. When someone other than the seller says a thing is good, people listen. If a lot of people say a thing is good, even better. Especially if those people have influence. This is also a really simple way to think about the basis of PageRank.

It makes sense when you think about it. An endorsement from someone with nothing material to gain from the endorsement is more compelling and trustworthy than one from the person doing the selling, particularly if you know or admire the endorser. Someone constantly pushing what they’re selling is like someone who talks about him or herself all the time: boring, and suspect. Big brands have gradually figured this out as they learn how to talk to people on the internet.

So what if the people you followed for their good taste made money when you bought something they shared? Would it change your perception of their curation? I wonder if such a system would ultimately ruin good curation or further motivate it.

The closest thing I know of to this currently is ShopSense from ShopStyle. Its users are proprietors of fashion blogs and editorial properties—people who, for me anyway, don’t have nearly the authority and influence as the people I follow on Etsy and elsewhere. There must also be some interesting Amazon Associates sites out there.

The experience I’m thinking of though is more like what you get when you keep up with a really well-curated vintage shop on Etsy (there are many; see my favorites). The shop owner obviously has a financial incentive for their work, but is also just genuinely excited to share the discoveries they’ve made.

Onboarding Inspiration

I collect screenshots of details I come across and like, on the desktop or phone, in an “inspiration” folder on Dropbox. But I haven’t found a good way to capture great onboarding flows yet other than blogging about them.

Here are two standouts that kind of smacked me in the face.

Stripe plops you inside the user’s dashboard and has you run a test charge with their payments API immediately. By using it, you see how simple it is. You use it as “Unsaved account.” You appear to be logged in with this unsaved account. You create a test payment by using it, which goes under ‘Recent payments’ in your dashboard. It’s your first payment. Look, you did that. Now enter an email address and password in step 2 and you have an account.

Codecademy gets you started by getting you started. You use the site by typing in a console in response to some friendly, conversational direction. You earn your first badge by making an error on purpose, as directed by the site. Then zoom through lesson 2 of 8. Feels good. As part of the third lesson, you end up providing Codecademy with your full name. It isn’t until you’ve completed this lesson that you’re asked to create an account to save “all the awesome progress you’ve made.” You need to do so to continue.

On Wikipedia, onboarding, “also known as organizational socialization, refers to the mechanism through which new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills and behaviors to become effective organizational members and insiders.” It makes a lot of sense that this term we use for getting new users involved with your site comes from the world of employment, when you think about it.

by pleasebystill on Etsy

If you start from successful startups, you find they often behaved like nonprofits. And if you start from ideas for nonprofits, you find they’d often make good startups.

–from a Paul Graham classic that’s worth reading in its entirety, repeatedly, and keeping handy in your Instapaper account.