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Review of Harvey Nichols Web Site (2001)

Harvey Nichols have redesigned their web site since this review was written in 2001.
Review »

The experience

To carry it off, harveynichols.com has to say Harvey-Nicks and feel Harvey-Nicks. It must fully act out the brand.

It does look the part, more or less. The visual style is well thought-out, clean and contemporary (site launched in 2001).
However, come to use it and it’s just not Harvey Nicks. Why?

Choosing the Flash version, it takes a full 40 dreary seconds before you get to the home page.

There is quite a lot of content to be found – possibly too much. HN isn’t about busyness or quantity – it’s about high fashion, style, something special.

So I’d expect HarveyNichols.com to tease me, tempt me, make me slaver to go and shop. The site should burst with exquisitely-presented products, but the words and pictures on show are relatively small and unsexy.

From the home page, it takes a further 3 clicks before you get to see any products.

The Harvey Nicols shopping experience is about feeling fab – it’s a pleasure in itself. From what this brand means to me, I’d expect using this site to be a breeze – window-shopping, sampling stuff and feeling great.

But it doesn’t pleasure me, it makes me work and I resent that. Some naff content costs me 15 seconds and five clicks with no reward other than watching the navigation rearrange itself, nearly every section navigates differently, and screen fonts are tiring to read. Unfortunately, the experience fails to live up.

Harvey Nichols.com is a miss, but it’s the company’s first try and many clients don’t know what to ask for until shopping for site #3.

For my money, the site should do less, but do it exquisitely and with attitude, do it Harvey Nicks.

Weak imagery, tedious pace and irrational navigation sell the Harvey Nicks experience short.

This article was first published in Campaign magazine (UK)

Analysis of the brand translation

What are the site’s goals?

Partly, to get people to visit the store, but I think this will be an indirect goal:

My guess is that they want the majority of people to be aware of the brand and maybe visit the store out of preference at some point, than be directly pulled in by a visit to the web site.

So I think the primary goal should be to showcase their package: product quality, portfolio of designers, range of things you can do in-store.

Of course, any retail site needs to provide access to certain consumer information: ordering, returns policy, opening times etc.

Why do people shop at Harvey Nichols? (Visitors’ goals)

Regular Harveynicks shoppers might browse the web site to look for new ranges, to plan shopping trips around.

Many more people probably just window-shop there, just like a good proportion of visitors to the stores. They’re looking for a taste of the Harvey Nichols shopping experience, for free.

How could aspects of the offline brand translate to the web?

Shopping for fun: leisurely, enjoyable shopping experience

In-store, it’s great to take your time and browse around, taking in the styles on display. You can browse actively or passively, following what catches your eye, or seeking out particular items.

The mistake the site makes is to impose a leisurely experience by slowing everything down, wasting the visitor’s time waiting for the screen to re-draw.
This is the wrong way to go about things. For one thing, that doesn’t happen in the shop. When you’re buying clothes, you have racks of clothes that you can quickly scan, just like any department store. The only difference you’d notice is *maybe* a higher density of instore displays, with greater attention to detail.

It is possible to give users a laid-back, pleasurable experience online. This is done by letting them smoothly browse around a rich mix of styles, designers and ideas. The critical factor is to show a fluid and intelligent arrangement of products and displays, to tempt people to look at things that catch the eye.

In other words, you need to devise a non-pushy ‘push’ paradigm, where the site makes the effort to serve up ideas, themes, or combinations of products that the user may not have expected.

HarveyNichols.com delivers more of a ‘pull’ system, making the consumer browse by category to get what they want.
While that’s not totally wrong, you do expect the site to do more for you…

Stylish, classy and customer-focused

As a customer, you’re made to feel special, from the moment the man in a hat opens the door for you to enter.
You’re getting a bit “more” than at any normal department store.

Is it possible to take that level of service online? Sure it is! It takes imagination to go beyond the idea of simply displaying your product range online.

One way of the web site intelligently, politely, going that little bit further might be for it to suggest other products to go with the item you’re looking at. For example, if I’m looking at a particular shirt, it could also show me trousers or ties that real stylists have picked out as suitable matches. It would be like having a personal shopper. You could even let it know what your price range might be.

Innovative and edgy presentation

Harvey Nichols stores’ window-dressings are highly original, often quirky and always visually impressive. This personality could definitely be carried over to the website, promoted up-front in rich graphics and editorial. The emphasis should be on visual richness and quality photography, rather than gratuitous animation.

About the author

Ben Hunt

Ben has over 20 years' experience in web design and marketing, and is one of the most influential figures on the subject of effective web design. He has written a bunch of books and spoken at multiple conferences internationally. In 2015, Ben created Open-Source Marketing, which promises to turn the practice of marketing upside down.. Find out more at http://opensourcemarketingproject.org