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High-End & Luxury Ecommerce Stores Need Their Own Approach: Introducing the High-End Conversion Engine
Ask any accessory aficionado: Is a $100 bag the same as a $2300 bag?
The “NO!” you’ll hear might deafen you.
High-end and luxury brands understand that someone buying a $100 bag doesn’t have the same motivations — and isn’t necessarily even the same type of buyer — as someone buying a $2300 bag.
The shopping experience for both bags reflects their differences:
You’ll be able to buy the $100 bag at pretty much any other store. Service will be nothing special. The store where you buy it won’t be particularly attractive. And chances are you won’t be offered coffee, tea, or a cocktail as you shop.
You’ll see many other bags on the shelves, probably crammed together. After all, the store can’t afford to waste much shelf space per product.
On the flip side, let’s look at the retail experience of buying a $2300 bag…
The store design is likely much nicer than average. Every detail has been thoughtfully attended to.
Products are the star, and each bag commands a considerable amount of shelf space. Items are carefully ordered and may be customized to the shopper’s tastes.
Often, the brand will carefully select music, scents, and textures to evoke certain emotions in the shopper and put them in the ideal mood to buy.
Even the experience of owning the item itself is different between the $100 bag and the $2300 bag. One will be used as a daily carry-all, serving a fashionable yet mainly utilitarian purpose.
The other is meant to create a style statement. It’s a status symbol, and its owners will give it the care that status demands.
This brings us to an important question.
If the customer type is completely different for each product; the retail shopping experience is different; and even the ownership experience is different…
Why, then, are the ecommerce experiences of disparate brands — the low-end, mid-tier, and high-end — so similar?
Why are very different customers being treated the same across ecommerce websites?
And finally… why are we approaching conversion optimization, A/B testing, and digital marketing the same way as well?
In this blog post, we’ll explore:
1. The different types of consumers of high-end products, and how each need to be sold to through ecommerce
2. What creates a high-converting, high-end ecommerce experience
3. And how to use our High-End Conversion Engine™ to upgrade the conversion optimization methodology and increase website sales of your high-end brand
The difference between high-end and luxury products
Let’s quickly clarify the distinction between “high-end” and “luxury”. A luxury product is always high-end, but a high-end product is not necessarily always a luxury product.
For example, take Carbon Coco, a company making “activated charcoal” toothpaste. Carbon Coco isn’t marketing itself as a luxury product. Its site and packaging design is nothing special either.
Nothing — other than the product’s price — screams “high-end”.
A single jar of Carbon Coco retails at $49.96. Compared to its $5 drugstore alternative, it’s definitely high-end. The justification for the price is likely that it’s an all-natural, unique, and frankly a novel product.
There are no other obvious alternatives in the market, so the brand can price as much as the market will bear. Price-sensitive customers will likely be repelled, as is the case with most high-priced products.
Now let’s take a look at this Aésop toothpaste. Priced at $17, it’s high-end compared to most alternatives. What’s important to note here is that this product will likely attract an entirely different type of customer than Carbon Coco.
The Aésop toothpaste is not as innovative or novel as Carbon Coco (which can get away with higher prices due to these factors).
Aésop accomplishes the same end result as a Crest or Colgate toothpaste, and its “mechanism” is the same: It cleans your teeth. It’s a paste, delivered from a tube, that you put on your toothbrush. Nothing new here.
The difference is that Aésop clearly markets its products as luxury products,which in return justifies its price in consumers’ minds.
What is luxury? It’s design, exclusivity, and more than anything, it’s emotion.
First, the design-minded will appreciate Aésop’s aesthetic. From the packaging to the product page, it gives off a refined, polished, and design-conscious vibe.
Second, its distinctive ingredients set it apart: Sea Buckthorn, Cardamom, and Wasabia Japonica promise the customer a more exclusive experience than standard drugstore toothpaste.
And third, the most important thing about Aésop’s product is that it makes a statement about the buyer.
The difference between a high-end product and a true luxury product lies in the emotions that both the brand and the product create in buyers.
It’s about the identity and feelings associated with indulging in a luxury product. Aésop can’t very well offer its online customers a glass of champagne while they shop, so it must make them feel special another way.
So now if we look at Carbon Coco and Aésop, they’re both high-end brands — in terms of being on the pricey end of the “tooth-cleaning” spectrum — but for completely different reasons.
Aésop is a true luxury product. It provides an identity to the buyer.
Carbon Coco is a unique product currently surfing the natural products trend.
This is an incredibly important difference. If Aésop presented its products like Carbon Coco, it would lose its brand appeal. The brand would lose the emotion and sensory experience it needs to convey to successfully sell its luxury products.
As for Carbon Coco? Its brand likely appeals to buyers of natural products, but it doesn’t aim to create a luxurious experience with which buyers can help shape their identity. If Carbon Coco started targeting Aesop’s customers tomorrow, it would likely fail.
The fact that a product is highly priced compared to its alternatives does not mean that anyone who can afford it will buy it.
That’s why there has to be a huge difference in how these kinds of products are marketed and sold through a website. Customers’ wants, needs, and motivations are entirely different between the standard retail shopper, the high-end, and luxury customer, so we can’t optimize for conversions the same way.
Later in this post, I’ll show you the High-End Conversion Engine™ method that will allow you to identify the emotions, information, and elements your ecommerce store needs to successfully attract and sell to the right customer — whether your high-end brand is positioned as a luxury product, or simply offers a unique alternative to what’s already out there.
The four different types of luxury buyers
Like we’ve seen, just because you’re a buyer of high-end products doesn’t mean you’ll like or buy all high-end products. Seems obvious…
But this is particularly important to remember when we do conversion optimization for high-end brands, because each brand will attract completely different segments that need their own marketing approach.
Unlike with lower-priced products, the same general homepage or product page structure won’t automatically work fine from brand to brand. There’s no ideal product page template when your marketing and sales rely so heavily on evoking emotion.
In their book The Luxury Strategy, Jean Noël Kapferer and Vincent Bastien discovered 4 main types of luxury customer segments:
Internalized luxury, comprising the search for an authentic experience. It’s almost an art of living, and very exclusive — and therefore distinguishes you from others through a discreet elitism;
Luxury of self-expression through strong creativity and singularity;
Luxury of certain values, of prestigious institutions, for those who seek status; and
Luxury of self-affirmation relative to others through the display of wealth, and the visibility of consumption famously reserved for a lucky few.
What this means is that each segment of your luxury buyers has different wants and needs, and these needs must be addressed differently.
That being said, this does not mean you can or should only address one type of customer. In fact, as the authors of the book above point out, some brands (like Louis Vuitton) communicate with all four types of customers, using various methods as well as different products.
Here’s what marketing to each of these luxury buyer personas looks like
For the first segment (internalized luxury), authentic experience and discreet elitism is key. You’ll want to emphasize your brand’s history and heritage, its timelessness, and your exclusive know-how.
People who identify with the internalized luxury segment want to feel like your product was carefully created for people like them — that it’s unique and not mass-manufactured. Talk about the product’s craftsmanship, the hard work that went into creating the products, and the artisans’ vision. These buyers want to be informed; they see themselves as connoisseurs who are able to truly appreciate quality products.
Address these elements on your product pages, in your brand content, and throughout your website copy. The imagery and copy should reflect these customer needs.
Burberry is one of those brands that goes heavy on heritage. Its website has a whole section dedicated to its history and craftsmanship, showing that its products have stood strong through tough times — from the use of its famous Gabardine trench coat through World War One, to Sir Ernest Shackleton’s polar expeditions, to the present day.
Arc’teryx Veilance, a Canadian brand making minimalist high-end outerwear, is a more modern brand than Burberry, so it doesn’t focus on its history. Instead, it markets itself as a modern, technical brand whose products are made to withstand the harshest weather conditions.
It’s not a loud brand either (good luck finding its logo on its products). Instead, Arc’teryx Veilance specifically focuses on the high-quality construction, refined look, and craftsmanship of its wares:
2. Luxury of self-expression: SSENSE
The second type of buyer wants to express themselves through creativity. For this segment, craftsmanship and brand history are much less important. They care about visuals, references to art and design, and creativity.
SSENSE is a prime example of an ecommerce store catering to this segment. Not only does SSENSE sell many pieces of clothing that lean on the creative and expressive side, but the brand has shaped its content marketing efforts to relate to this segment.
On the SSENSE homepage, you’ll find many references to art, design, fashion, and music:
3. Luxury of certain values: Louis Vuitton
The third type of buyer is the one who seeks prestige, celebrity, and proof of social success. They want to feel a sense of belonging in an affluent class. This type of customer is more likely to wear logos and monograms as they’re after the status that the luxury goods will provide.
As Kapferer and Bastien mentioned when describing this customer group: “They need known and recognized badges to distinguish themselves from others, to transmit their success.”
When it comes to ecommerce, successfully converting this segment is slightly less straightforward than converting other groups. The brand’s identity and reputation are the biggest players here.
One could argue the Louis Vuitton monogram bags are perfect examples of products made for this market. They shout loud and clear that they’re a customer of Louis Vuitton: a known brand that is a cultural point of reference for luxury and success.
(Note that customers of the first and second customer groups might be heard saying these bags are too mainstream.)
Although this relates more to product design than ecommerce optimization, I also want to point out that you may want to be careful selling items with patterns and logos. In the 2000s, Burberry’s iconic checked pattern became known as the “chav” check and lost its magic.
A result of too many licensing deals and brand extensions diluted the value of the pattern, and weakened the brand as a whole.
4. Luxury of self-affirmation: Aston Martin & Chanel
The fourth type of customer seeks to stand out from the rest. They value timelessness, the international reputation of the brand, and rarity. They want to display power that’s reserved for a small number of people.
For this customer group, you will want to emphasize the exclusivity of your products. You could mention how many products are available if they’re of limited quantity, or even offer exclusive, limited-edition products to your top customers only — so they feel privileged to be part of that small, exclusive “club” they’re looking for.
The above graphic demonstrate how rarity can be created amongst brands. It shows that rarity, which creates exclusivity that makes this fourth customer type stand out, can be created both physically (by the use of rare materials, craftsmanship, etc) and virtually through marketing and selective distribution of the products.
For example, the “hypebeasts’” favorite brand, Supreme, uses both distribution-based rarity and information/marketing based-rarity for most of their products. Then, their Louis Vuitton collaboration which is a limited-edition collection, fits under the 3rd rarity driver.
All of them will help the fourth customer type stand out from its peers, but since “natural” rarity drivers are limited in volume, they’ll be worth even more to the eyes of the beholder.
Some prestigious brands with items that are too expensive to sell through e-commerce may want to create an online waitlist system, or allow their customers to schedule an in-store consultation.
These brands’ marketing channels and strategies aim to get the customer to take the next best action for the conversion: to schedule an appointment, to get on a call with an advisor, and so on.
It’s not because they can’t make the transaction online that there is no online conversion. It’s because they want that customer to come to the store and buy the product in person — so they can control and preserve the buying experience.
Email campaigns, personalized outreach, or even the ability to customize a product online help emphasize a product’s rarity (think of a brand like Aston Martin, which allows you to personalize your car online).
The Chanel Monsieur watch is a $63,000 watch. Understandably, the brand may not want to sell the watch online, so it can keep intact the exclusive, one-on-one experience of buying this watch in person.
To maintain the exclusivity of this watch, Chanel doesn’t even show the price online. This keeps people who are price-sensitive away, and ensures that only the truly interested will venture into a store.
It’s a quiet form of communication that shouts “This is expensive”.
Now, the call to action is “Find a Store”. My two cents: at this price point, and with the importance of keeping such a luxurious purchase an exclusive experience, I’d recommend Chanel add a call-to-action along the lines of “Connect with Your Personal Watch Advisor”.
The customer would enter their information in order to be contacted by a Chanel representative who could assist them with finding the closest store.
This way, Chanel would make the experience even more personal, in addition to capturing the potential customer’s information in their CRM.
The Conversion Optimization Framework for High-End Ecommerce
As you’ve just learned, high-end fashion, lifestyle and luxury brands should not:
Treat their ecommerce store like any other ecommerce store
Communicate the same way with all of their website visitors
Approach conversion optimization like any other brand would
A successful, high-converting ecommerce store selling high-end brands requires a unique, individualized conversion methodology.
SplitBase created the High-End Conversion Engine as a way to fulfill the high-end and luxury brand’s complex needs.
The High-End Conversion Engine contains 5 facets that together create the brand “experience” — the pinnacle of the framework.
The first is Usability. Without proper website usability (UX), nothing else counts. It’s the base of the framework because it supports all other facets.
The second is Products. Without the products and their specifications, you don’t have an ecommerce store.
The third is Audience. Without truly knowing who your audience is, what they need, what they desire, why they buy, and what their objections and hesitations to buying are… you’ll have no idea how to communicate with them in your copy or design.
The fourth is Emotions.When you know the emotions you have to target to resonate with your audience, you’ll know what to aim for when creating copy, selecting visuals, and strategizing marketing campaigns.
The fifth is Visuals. In high-end ecommerce, we need to make the products the star, and create an intimate relationship between the prospective buyer and the product. Visuals help communicate your product, your brand values, and the emotions you need to convey.
At the top, you’ll see “Experience”. When all the facets are employed together, the ideal brand experience takes shape. This is what you’re trying to achieve.
That being said, too many brands are making a fatal mistake when it comes to the experience: they confuse experience with usability. They’ll try to create an immersive or innovative ecommerce experience that may communicate emotions… but as an ecommerce store, it takes people out of their familiar online shopping patterns — thus destroying the customer’s sense of familiarity and ease.
So even though the website may end up looking nice, and may even win awards, the brand is unknowingly sacrificing usability, which in return is costing them a large percentage of sales.
There is a fine balance between conveying the right online brand experience, staying unique, and keeping the store at a high level of usability. It’s an art, and that art is partially what the High-End Conversion Engine aims to accomplish.
Would you like to know exactly where your ecommerce website should be improved to hit your conversion and sales goals? Click here to schedule a free 25 minute conversion assessment where we’ll review your site using the High-End Conversion Engine.
Without further ado, let’s dive deeper into each facet of the framework.
Facet 1: Usability
Usability is at the base of the framework because it hold all aspects of the framework together. Nothing — not emotions, not visuals, not even the product itself — matters if the website is not usable.
We’ve seen many strange design trends over the years that hurt usability. Here are just a few:
Hamburger menus on the desktop site
Super small or light typefaces that make reading difficult
And even buttons that don’t look like buttons!
Although these elements may look good from a purely design-based perspective, they put unnecessary hurdles in the way of a customer who wants to make a purchase.
Imagine going to a retail store and not being able to find the size on a piece of clothing, or not being able to locate the cash register to buy. It sounds ridiculous, but that’s exactly what a lot of retailers are currently doing online.
Golden Goose’s website is a good example of a website that neglects usability in favor of achieving a certain look. There are links scattered all over the page; the bag/cart (which should always be visible) is hard to find; and there’s no visual hierarchy to guide the visitor’s attention. This results in cognitive overload.
Some brands will make the mistake of trying to be innovative with their website in order to create a different experience. (Because the brand is “unique,” some executives might say.)
But the problem with brands trying to be innovative with their website is that it goes against one of the golden rules of website usability: the science of familiarity.
Subconsciously, humans prefer things that we’re familiar with. And when we’re familiar with say, a website, we have a good idea of how to use it and accomplish our goals.
On top of this, a study by Van der Heijden found that the perceived ease of use of a website significantly increased a user’s perceived enjoyment of using the website — which also increased their intentions to continue using it.à
What does this mean? Well, when people are familiar with how to navigate an ecommerce website and check out, their perceived ease of use increases. And when this happens, you’re more likely to convert that website visitor into a customer.
This graphic shows that when customers are familiar with a store, their experience navigating it becomes easier as well.
A website that lacks great usability represents the brand’s failure to care about and understand its customers. This failure is often at least partly due to brands’ hunger to always be more creative; to give carte blanche to designers; and to forgo testing the design with customers.
So if you want to sell more online, a top-notch user experience is not a “nice to have,” but a definite “must have”.
How to create a world-class user experience
The first step to creating a world-class user experience is to understand your website’s goals.
For an e-commerce site, you likely want:
People to view the products
Then to add a product to their cart
And finally to complete every step of checkout and successfully buy
This seems simple, but it’s often forgotten in the midst of design decisions. The result is a website where customers have a hard time completing one of these actions. The reality is that your website should be designed thoughtfully around the above goals.
Every step in the funnel below is a spot at which a visitor can leave. You need to optimize the entire funnel so visitors flow from one step to another without doubts, questions, or problems.
The second step of world-class usability is to treat every design decision as a hypothesis. In other words, you can’t assume people will know where to click or what to do when they’re on the website. Everything has to be crystal-clear.
For example, my team was recently redesigning Nudu Skincare’s website. On the homepage, we wanted people to be able to customize what they call a “Beauty System” based on their skin type.
In the initial design, we added a slider above the product’s image where people could move the dot from Oily to Very Dry (and anything in-between) to see the best system for their skin type.
As users moved the slider, the section at the left — the product type — would change from Oily Skin, to Normal Skin, to Dry Skin, to Very Dry Skin.
But we had one concern. We worried that because the slider was above the product image, and not above the section on the left, that:
1. People wouldn’t see the slider right away, and
2. Those who did might not understand that the section on the left would change according to the skin type they selected using the slider.
This means we had to validate this design decision, even though the new design wasn’t yet live (so we couldn’t A/B test it).
We used heatmapping tool Feng-Gui to get an idea of how people would see the page.
From these visual attention maps, we had a better idea on how people would look at the page, and what they’d notice first. Fortunately, we found some hints that the skin type slider wasn’t getting as much attention as it should, and it wasn’t being seen before the left side section.
We wanted to dig deeper, so we also asked numerous UsabilityHub users what actions they would take to shop a beauty system for dry skin (we wanted to see if they would use the slider for this).
Unsurprisingly, more than half of our test users didn’t even mention the slider and said they’d simply click on “Shop Now”.
We then re-designed the page to increase context between the slider and the left section:
In Nudu’s case, this feedback loop was built into our redesign process. Larger design decisions were validated as they were designed, and even if it takes more time up-front, it’s much less complicated to validate these decisions now compared to when designs are live on the website.
Usability testing for example (a process by which you can watch real people use your website), should also be done continuously to understand how website visitors navigate your website and where they hesitate or get stuck.
Session recordings are also key to understanding the usability of your website. A fashion retailer our conversion optimization agency worked with had a high abandonment rate at one step of their mobile checkout.
After watching a few hundred session recordings, we discovered that about 15% of the time that someone was going through the checkout, the “Proceed to Next Step” button that led users to the payment step would simply disappear.
This was a huge find — and something that we wouldn’t have been able to figure out using only analytics. The arbitrary disappearance of this button meant that users were getting stuck in checkout, unable to complete their purchase!
Our client had no idea, and it was likely costing them hundreds or thousands of dollars every month.
Using these above methods to understand how visitors use your website and continuously improve is necessary to improve your site’s usability, and at the end of the day, sell more.
If people can’t check out, can’t find what they’re looking for, or can’t add an item to their cart due to a usability problem, why even bother selling online?
Facet 2: Audience
If you try to sell to everyone, you’ll end up selling to no one.
That’s why Audience is a crucial part of the High-End Conversion Engine. Before you design, write any copy, or pick any images, you need to understand your audience in-depth.
Now here’s the deal: In the past 6 years of doing optimization work, I’ve noticed that nearly all companies who think they know their audience don’t actually know their customer inside and out.
“Unknown unknowns” plague companies of all sizes. They don’t know that there are certain things that they don’t know about their customers, and that’s holding companies back from gaining incredible insights about their audiences.
If you have customer profiles and you’re able to clearly articulate what your customer wants, their motivations for buying from you, and what’s going on in their lives, you’re probably ahead of the pack. That being said, I want you to take a second to seriously ask yourself how you’ve been able to find out about these things from your customers…
Were your customer profiles created in a team meeting, brainstorming with your colleagues? Does your insight come from your own observation of who buys from you, or does it come from actual customer data?
And finally, when’s the last time you actually talked to your customers, on the phone or face to face, to learn more about them?
You see, most customer personas and traits that companies create are often completely made up. They’re based on feelings and general observations, and discussions at all-hands meetings.
This phenomenon doesn’t necessarily happen on purpose. Every company doing it probably thinks they’re doing the right thing. But the truth is that it’s preventing many brands from truly communicating and establishing a solid relationship with their customer base.
Don’t guess about your audience
The key to relating with your audience is to throw away made-up customer personas (or “avatars”) and start doing some research.
By truly understanding the triggers that make people buy from you, including their needs, wants, motivations, and what’s going on in their lives, you can gain a massive competitive advantage. You’ll be able to create a strong emotional connection with customers, which then leads to sales.
We recommend you begin with these three major research methodologies in order to get to know your audience better:
Customer Surveys. By asking a few select questions, you can find out exactly who your audience is, what’s going on in their lives, what made them buy from you, what made them hesitate before buying, and truly, who your customers are.
Customer Interviews. Having a conversation with a customer is very powerful, because you can dive deeper into the insights you get from your customer surveys. By paying close attention to your interviewee’s tone of voice, expressions, and movements (if you conduct your interview live or through video), you’ll be able to understand the meaning and weight of their answers to your questions, including their emotional state.
Chat Logs & Support Ticket Analysis. This method allows you to understand your customers’ top questions. It’s very useful to discover what’s missing or causing confusion on your website.
Retail Store Interviews. For brands with physical retail stores, one of the fastest ways to understand your customers' questions, needs and wants is to speak with your retail store associates. They interact with your customers all day, and will have far more insights about your customers than anyone working in an office, far away from customers.
There’s a reason why a lot of companies don’t do these types of research and end up guessing about their customers. Yep, it’s because it’s a whole lot of work. We regularly perform these research methods on behalf of our clients through our Conversion Research service, and simply analyzing a customer survey can take almost a week of full-time work. And that’s with two analysts on the job!
Here’s an example of the type of survey we send on behalf of our clients:
But don’t let this scare you. Yes, the research is a lot of work, but it’s what helps you determine and solidify your positioning — and these strategies have spurred our biggest successes when it comes to increasing sales of the companies we work with.
Take P3, for example: a high-quality, natural deodorant company we’ve worked with for nearly a year. When they approached us asking for help with their website redesign as they were migrating to Shopify Plus, they had a slight idea of who their customers were.
That being said, as you might be able to imagine at this point, a “slight” idea wasn’t enough for us to truly be able to move the needle on their conversions.
After launching customer surveys, analyzing support tickets, talking with customers, and launching website polls, we finally gained key insights, such as:
The Voice of Customer: The exact words and phrases people used when talking about their problems and why they buy P3
The Top 4 Customer Personas: These were actually backed by research (and quite different from the initial personas the company had created)
The Purchase Barriers and Drivers: What usually held people back from buying more of their product, and on the other hand, the triggers that made people buy.
In just a few months, by doing this research work in conjunction with A/B testing through our Testing Trifecta method, this deep-dive into P3’s customers paid off. Their online sales increased by 21%, representing over $1.1M in additional sales for the year.
P3’s optimized website now had imagery that was super-relevant to their customer personas. Product descriptions and site copy matched the words and phrases customers used.
The questions prospects and customers were asking themselves about the products were now being answered throughout the website, and we were able to defuse their objections.
SplitBase found in our research that people didn’t fully understand the differences between the different strengths of deodorant that the company offered. So we created this chart explaining exactly when to use which product, which answers customers’ doubts and questions.
This is why Audience is such a big part of the High-End Conversion Engine. Without this facet, nothing else is reliable. If you’re spending time writing copy or shooting new photos but you’re not doing deep audience research, you’re wasting time (and money!).
(At the end of the day, if you truly don’t have time to fit this into your own workload or your team’s schedule, or you just don’t know where to get started, you can get in touch with SplitBase here, and we can help you like we helped P3)
So let me ask you… If you’re not doing audience, how much money are you currently leaving on the table?
Facet 3: Product
The reason for the “Product” facet may surprise you. It’s here because products, even though they should be the stars of an ecommerce store, are sometimes neglected.
Some companies are so focused on creating an “experience” with the website that they forget that customers will have questions about the products. Sure, a luxury purchase is mostly an emotional one, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t include product specifications or answer your customers’ questions.
Let’s take SSENSE for example (the luxury fashion ecommerce store I mentioned above). They’re highly design-focused, and have great product imagery. That being said, there’s a lot of information about their products that’s lacking.
See the Saint Laurent “Black Zip Pullover” on SSENSE. The only information about the product (other than the images) is a short, flat description that was likely provided by the designer, and a link to a size chart:
Now let’s take a step back. If you were to buy this piece of clothing, what other types of question would you have about the product? You’d likely want to know the fit, what size the model is wearing, how to care for the item, and so on.
Yet SSENSE is not addressing any of these questions. Unfortunately, they’re a great example of a brand that’s trying to communicate the feeling of minimalism — and instead creating an experience that’s ultimately hurting usability and costing them sales.
By pushing “minimalism” too far and omitting so much product information, they’re ignoring customers that need more than a picture to buy the item. This is a very important, but basic element of ecommerce. People can’t try the item out, touch it, and ask a store clerk questions while shopping online, so it’s critical to help the customer make their decision by providing as much useful information as possible.
Compare SSENSE’s presentation with the same product on another luxury clothing site, Mr Porter, and you’ll see the latter takes pains to give the buyer more information:
1. Custom-written product descriptions
“Editor’s Notes” are customized product descriptions that help the visitor get a better idea of the product, in addition to providing recommendations on products to pair with it. This is key, because it helps visitors imagine the outcome of wearing the product, like how they could wear it, and how they’d look. I discussed this with copywriter Ryan Schwartz in a conversation about writing product descriptions.
2. In-depth sizing and fit information
This simple addition addresses a huge concern for virtually all people buying clothes online.
3. Details and origin specifications
4. Clear shipping and return policy
They’re also very clear on the shipping and return policy, another important concern of ecommerce buyers.
5. Offers of help
Finally, Mr Porter even adds a “Size Help” button next to the “Select a Size” dropdown to further address size and fit questions.
When clicked, just like the Size & Fit section on the page, it opens a window with impressively detailed size and fit information, including a size conversion chart, product measurements, and even a measuring guide.
At the end of the day, yes, Mr Porter and SSENSE have two different types of audience. SSENSE’s audience leans more toward being edgier and younger than Mr Porter’s.
That being said, this doesn’t mean the SSENSE audience will simply buy a product blind. Some might, but a lot will go elsewhere due to their questions not being answered.
Another downside of providing minimal product info? People may still take a chance and buy the product knowing they can always return it, and chances are you’ll have to deal with significantly more returns than you otherwise would have.
Just in case you need a reminder, more returns = more staff necessary for retailers to process items, more inventory headaches, and far higher costs. There’s simply no upside to holding back the information your customers need to know.
How to discover what your product pages are missing
At this point, you know that failing to provide the information your customer needs about your products will not only hurt your conversions — it will also increase returns.
This brings us to an important question: How do you know what information is missing from your product pages?
Website polls are usually small, non-intrusive windows that appear at the bottom left or right of a web page. They can be set to appear when a visitor is about to leave the page; after a set amount of time; or when a visitor takes a specific action.
When we install these polls for clients, we’ll usually begin with a simple yes or no question to make it easy to answer the poll. Questions like, “Were you able to find the information you were looking for?”, or “Is there anything missing from this page?” are great to start with.
The next step is to actually ask what’s missing. So if you ask, “Were you able to find the information you were looking for?” and someone clicks “No,” make sure to say, “Please tell us what information you were looking for” or “Please tell us what’s missing”. A text box should appear to let visitors type their answer.
After you collect a few hundred answers (we recommend a minimum of 200), you’ll analyze them for common themes or responses. This is where the magic happens, and you get to discover exactly what’s missing from your product pages (and you’ll learn your customers’ top questions).
To run website polls, we recommend you use a tool like HotJar or Qualaroo.
Lower end-products will often be compared to each other by their functionalities, practicality, and how they’re constructed. In other words, they’re compared quantitatively. And for these types of products, wherein customers are looking to justify the product price by the product’s physical construction or function, this works fine.
But high-end and luxury products simply can’t be compared quantitatively. Their value is qualitative, because a luxury product is more than the product itself. It’s the brand value, the status it provides, the rarity, and the feeling it gives the buyer.
A Lamborghini provides status, and fulfills a dream for many. BUT it can be incredibly uncomfortable, you likely won’t drive it in winter, and it will spend more time sitting in a garage than on the road.
It’s simply not practical, compared to say, a Lexus SUV that costs ¼ of the price. But its value is emotional, and that’s mainly why people buy it. This is true for most other luxury products, too.
This means that in luxury ecommerce, it’s even more important to help the customer justify their purchase by communicating emotionally. If you let your customers rationalize, and you sell based purely on logic, you’ll be missing out.
The first step to successfully convey the right emotions is to stop assuming you know how your customers feel — or should feel.
Too many businesses simply assume they know their customers well and make assumptions about their decision-making process. By simply conducting 15-20 min interviews with our customers, we’re able to identify their emotional triggers, understand why they buy from our client vs. their competitor, and get valuable quotes highlighting the concerns customers had before their purchase and how they were solved. In fact, these interviews are so powerful that they help us in writing all of our copy and finding the voice of customer.
The SplitBase process for discovering our customers’ emotions is similar to Talia’s. As mentioned earlier in the “Audience” portion of the framework, we’ll go deep with customer interviews and customer surveys. We ask specific questions that allow us to understand the customer’s wants, needs, and finally, their emotions.
Use Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions to understand and categorize your customers’ emotions, and determine how you want to make them feel. – image source
In order to do this, we’ll need to understand why customers bought, and what type of customer they are (based on the customer types we explained above). Customers won’t always tell you the true reason behind their purchase. For example, they likely won’t say that seeking status and social acceptance is why they bought their Louis Vuitton monogrammed bag. In fact, they may not even be aware of the exact reason themselves.
So when you do customer interviews, asking your questions from different angles and paying careful attention to conversational nuances is key.
Once you have a good idea of the emotions that make your customers buy, we recommend creating an emotional map.
An emotional map is a chart of all the emotions that were identified, combined with the colors associated with those emotions, and any visuals and images that match or support those emotions.
Your emotional map will serve as a clear guideline for using color and imagery in your site design and marketing materials, so you can effectively and subconsciously communicate emotionally with your customer.
Which brings us to…
Facet 5: Visuals
Once you know your audience inside and out, and know the emotions you need to convey in order for your website to have as much impact as possible, you’re ready to start taking a look at the visual aspects of your website. AKA its design and imagery.
Visuals are crucial to the High-End Conversion Engine because they allow you to communicate trust, brand positioning, dreams, desires, and emotions. And, of course, they can help the customer relate to the products and to the brand.
A few key rules for imagery…
1. Make the products the focus
The first rule for effective imagery in high-end ecommerce is to make the products the focus. You want the images to be big, clear, high-quality. Don’t skimp on product photography, and include pictures that capture multiple angles of the product you’re selling. Show it in different circumstances.
If we again look to Mr Porter (since the brand is one of the leaders in high-end ecommerce for men’s clothing), the first image on the product page is always the product by itself, in full view. This makes it the star.
Next, to provide website visitors with context on how to wear the piece, Mr Porter offers an image of a model wearing the piece of clothing as part of a look:
Subsequent pictures show the model with the product (without the full outfit). This gives visitors a good idea of the fit and look of the product when worn:
And finally, there are a few more pictures that show the details of the product:
With these pictures, Mr Porter successfully accomplishes a few things:
The full-look picture with the model helps inspire prospective buyers by showing how they can wear the item
The pictures of the shirt itself and the shirt on the model give a great overview of the overall look and fit of the product
And the pictures of the details are the equivalent of product specifications, giving an in-depth look at the product
Using models in your product imagery is a great way to showcase different looks if you’re selling clothing and you want to appeal to the aspirations of the visitor.
But I have to warn you that you may still want to be careful using models in your images.
When selling high-end products, you want to establish an emotional link between the product and the prospective buyer. You want visitors to be able to imagine and visualize how they would look and feel with the item. The danger of using models in all of your pictures is that you won’t be giving your audience the space to imagine themselves wearing or using the item.
The bottom line? Use models, but also give space to your visitors to relate, dream and imagine themselves using the product.
2. Aim to create relatability
No brand sells to “everyone”. Each has its own audience that forms the majority of its customers. When selling online, you’ll want to make sure your audience relates with the imagery you use.
For example, if you primarily sell skincare to women aged 50+, but your website is full of pictures of 30-year-old women, your marketing won’t resonate with your target audience — so you’ll have a much harder time converting your visitors into customers.
Remember P3, the natural, high-end deodorant company we worked with? Before we helped them redesign their website, we made sure to understand who their top customers were. Through qualitative research, we quickly discovered that a lot of athletes were using P3 products. They said it was the first natural deodorant they found that lasted through intense physical activity.
This insight was worth its weight in gold for two specific reasons:
A lot of people were skeptical that a natural deodorant would actually last, especially while partaking in sports
We understood that one of P3’s top customer types was a woman athlete. This was key, considering this demographic frequently objected to the purchase, thinking a natural deodorant wouldn’t work for sports
With this in mind, we added images of woman athletes, such as this one on the homepage:
With this image, clickthroughs to the Shop Deodorant page quickly increased. This image is great, because it creates relatability with one of the company’s top demographic: women athletes. And it also tells at the same time that this deodorant is good enough for sports.
As a completely different example, Dolce & Gabbana’s new campaigns are a prime example of a large brand using imagery to reach their target audience. The luxury brand has been heavily focused on millennials in the recent years, and now uses images that prominently feature social media stars such as Cameron Dallas.
This does a few interesting things for the brand:
First, it helps millennials who can buy D&G products relate with the brand.
Second, yet most important one for a luxury brand, it creates a future for the fashion house. You see, luxury brands wouldn’t be as desirable or desired if they were only known among a select group of people. If they’re not known to a larger public, they won’t provide the status or exclusive feeling that some people are looking for.
Luxury is not a product of mass consumption. It needs to be seen as exclusive.
This means that brands like Dolce & Gabbana need to use their marketing as a channel to generate aspirations. They need to cultivate their reputation with groups that may not yet be able to afford their products.
By making social media celebrities who have a large influence on their millennial and Gen. Z followings the faces of their brand, D&G can create desire within that audience starting at a young age. So as these younger audiences grow up, their desire to buy from the brand will follow them until some of them reach a stage where they have the financial means to buy.
In other words, the brand is playing the long game: nurturing a new customer base for the future.
3. Communicate Emotions
Outside of your use of product images, the other images and videos that you use throughout your website should communicate the emotions you’ve identified in your emotional map. And those images should tell a story.
There should be specific intentions behind the images you choose — because as you may remember, emotions are the foundation of decisions.
The most startling truth is we don’t even think our way to logical solutions. We feel our way to reason. Emotions are the substrate, the base layer of neural circuitry underpinning even rational deliberation. Emotions don’t hinder decisions. They constitute the foundation on which they’re made!
– Douglas Van Praet, author of Unconscious Branding: How Neuroscience Can Empower (and Inspire) Marketing
Do you want to give your customers the feeling of adventure? Freedom? Creativity? Exclusivity? Happiness? You need to select visuals that represent what you want your audience to feel.
A brand that does this incredibly well? Apple, naturally.
From Day 1, Apple has used clean design, simplicity, and the desire to be part of a lifestyle to attract customers. The brand uses many close-ups of its products to communicate its design philosophy, its sensitivities, and that it’s considered every detail.
Last, but not least: The entire Experience
Finally, at the pinnacle of the High-End Conversion Engine, we’ve got “Experience”.
An experience is not something you can simply create out of the box. A company that goes out aiming to create an “experience” for its customers through its ecommerce store is a company that will likely fail at addressing customers’ needs and its own store’s usability, because it will only target emotions. And by now you know that emotions alone won’t make an ecommerce store successful.
So what makes the experience? Why is is at the top of our framework?
The answer is simple: An experience is composed of multiple facets. For a high-converting lifestyle, fashion, or luxury ecommerce store, experience is the sum of usability, product, audience, and visuals combined with emotions.
And there’s something else: data.
At the end of the day, you have to know WHO your audience is, WHAT to say to them, and HOW to say it. The Engine enables you to create a calculated, strategic, and data-driven experience that will ensure your ecommerce store performs and hits sales targets.
How does your ecommerce store compare to your competitors? Click here to schedule a free 25 minute conversion assessment where we’ll review your site using the High-End Conversion Engine.
The Bottom Line
The customer of the high-end brand is not the same as the one of a mass consumer brand. The triggers that make people buy, their emotions, wants, and needs are entirely different. So it doesn’t make sense to use the same conversion strategy.
Until today, there wasn’t a single conversion optimization strategy dedicated to high-end lifestyle, fashion and luxury ecommerce. But now, with the High-End Conversion Engine, you have a solid, field-tested framework for optimization.
By relying on the framework’s 5 facets — Usability, Product, Audience, Emotions, and Visuals — you will be able to create a world-class, customer-centric user experience that’s aimed at converting more website visitors into buyers, enabling conversion and sales growth in your company.
And remember, if something’s not working for you, it doesn’t mean that it’s not working at all. Everything you do in each of these facets will require testing and continuous optimization.
What’s your key takeaway from this framework? Have questions? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll respond.
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