Harvey Nichols has launched a new magazine-style website optimised for use on smartphones and tablets. It’s an interesting approach to content marketing, but the site’s design seems to have divided opinion…
The new website was designed in-house and built by agency Ampersand Commerce. It aims to offer a better and simpler user experience and new features include a ‘MyHN’ section where users can create a profile and shopping shortlists; a ‘fashion emergency’ button which takes them to a live chat with a stylist and a ‘click and try’ service, which orders products to store for a one-on-one appointment with an adviser.
The most noticeable change, however, is the emphasis placed on content. Users can still use drop down menus to browse products by department and category but the homepage is now a mix of editorial features and social content. Articles are grouped into six categories, including trends, editor’s picks, inspiration and brand focus.
Features are identified by icons and hashtags and include a mix of full-screen photoshoots, scrapbook-style grids and more traditional product lists and written content. Colour coding and symbols are also used to group products, sections and services.
The site took around a year to build and five months was spent planning design and user experience. Harvey Nichols’ multichannel director Sandrine Deveaux says designers were given a fairly open brief, but asked to “make products look stunning, ensure people find what they are looking for as quickly as possible and fuse content with product as seamlessly as possible.”
The new site is the brand’s first designed with smartphone and tablet users in mind, and Deveaux says the re-design was driven by a change in consumer behaviour. “We have heavy usage on tablet and mobile, and the move away from desktop looks inexorable,” she says.
“[This] creates its own unique challenges, especially given that the vast majority of our customers are iPhone users, where the screen size is significantly smaller than most android devices,” she says. “One of the most striking changes is the shift from traditional left hand category navigation to persistent top level. We’ve been heavily influenced by tablet usage where long scrolls are the norm, and felt that left hand navigation isn’t fit for purpose anymore,” she adds.
Harvey Nichols isn’t the first brand to adopt this kind of content marketing approach – Net-a-Porter, ASOS, Topshop and Urban Outfitters’ websites all feature style guides and editorial features – but these are usually confined to a particular section of the site. Harvey Nichols’ takes the idea a step further, putting equal emphasis on content and product.
This does encourage longer browsing and may lead to customers stumbling on new collections, but it won’t be to everyone’s tastes. While the magazine format has proved successful for high street brands, there’s a careful balance to be struck by upmarket shops who want to offer more content and interaction while retaining a sense of luxury.
The response to Harvey Nichols’ new site was largely positive on Twitter but on retail and marketing blogs, it has divided opinion. Some likened the layout to low-cost templates, while others felt the focus on content was distracting.
But perhaps some of this criticism is a little unfair. There is still a widespread expectation that luxury brand sites should focus on white space and full-screen photos, but Harvey Nichols aim is to do more than showcase products. As Deveaux points out, Harvey Nichols is a brand that’s known for its cheeky sense of humour, and the new website clearly reflects this.
“Harvey Nichols positions itself as…being exclusive but accessible. One of the joys of the brand is that it differentiates itself with humour and wit. Our challenge is to ensure that the core values are communicated to the existing customer base at the same time as offering an online customer experience that appeals to the next generation of customers,” she explains.