E-commerce done right


I can get gushy over shoes. It isn’t that often that I get gushy over a web site. But, Piperlime (from Gap, Inc.) actually gets it right. And, they’re getting it right in so many places where everyone else has gone wrong.

Help people with shipping-phobia

This is the one area where you can miss the boat on new users. “I’m not sure if it’s quite right.” “I need to see it in person.” “My friend told me returning stuff is impossible.” So, what has Piperlime done? Free shipping and free returns. It’s even worded in plain English.

That’s right. Standard delivery is on us. Simply pay for your new shoes and we’ll drop them off at your doorstep within four to seven business days. If you’re not absolutely delighted with your shoes, pack them up in their original condition and send them back within 60 days of your purchase. Use our prepaid return label and take them to your nearest UPS drop off or hand them to your local driver. It’s that easy. Promise.

Every consumer e-commerce site needs to do this. If I were Oprah, I’d chant this three times in a row so you’d remember. (But, I’m not. ) Incidentally, SoftMoc (a Canadian company) has a similar policy – 75 day returns, returns by mail or to their bricks n’ mortar locations). With SoftMoc, you could go to one of their stores and buy your shoes for the same price. So, free shipping levels those two options for consumers.

Sell one thing and sell it better than anyone

Piperlime sells shoes. They don’t sell books, dvds, groceries and lawn tractors. They just sell shoes.

Jared Spool of UIE will usually mention their study with REI versus LL Bean in between his corny jokes.

For example, when we watched shoppers looking at hiking boots on both
REI and L.L. Bean, we found that REI sold more boots to experienced
hikers. While the descriptions of the boots were the same and the
prices were equivalent, it was the pictures that made the difference.
On REI, they showed the bottoms of the boots (the tread), where they
only showed the tops on L.L. Bean.

It’s the detail that REI had because the person who sold hiking boots in the stores put the photos of the treads on the site.

Text labels for shoe subcategories on PiperlimeThis isn’t to say that there isn’t a lot of diversity in Piperlime’s product offerings. They have low to extremely high end shoes – all available in one site. Concentrating on one product also allows them to help people find exactly what they need. At Piperlime, they have some shoes that are marked as picks by Rachel Zoe, their stylist. Someone knows shoes – and their wearers – extremely well.

If the shoes fit large, it’ll actually say that on the details page for the shoe. If they are wider or narrower than normal, it’ll say that.

Some customers are extremely brand-centric. (Personally, I refuse to even look at shoes by Clark’s). So, there’s a clear path that gets those customers right to their brand.

In other areas, they’re using plain language to describe what to wear the shoes with – not just what the shoes are. So, for the slightly fashion backward (myself included), you have “What to wear with dresses.” This is what I understand. But, they’re not just telling you what to wear with dresses. Instead, they break it down into Minis, Wraps, and Long and flowy.

These categories also overlap. The Steve Madden Gemz patent thong appears in “What to wear with dresses: Long and flowy,” “Sandals we love” and “Wedding season.” It’s just a matter of thinking like your customer.

  1. I need shoes to go with my new dress
  2. Show me some cute sandals, I trust you
  3. I need shoes for a wedding

The three scenarios behind those three paths are a little different. But, it doesn’t mean that the customer won’t be interested in the same shoe.

Use AJAX when it helps people – not just when it sounds cool

QuickLook view of a Richard Tyler shoe showing sizes that are not availableThey’ve got a “quick look” feature on all of their gallery pages. What’s the most valuable information about a shoe (after what it looks like)? (1) Is it in my size? and (2) What other colours are available?

This lovely black pump (also on sale) is available in several sizes. Unfortunately, they’re missing my size.

I’ve seen too many sites use these product previews in useless ways. The most commonly unhelpful implementation is showing a text description of exactly what you’re looking at. Specifications and availability are much more useful.

Group search results into a sensible order

Alphabetical order is, essentially, random order. I’m reading Everything is Miscellaneous right now, and I can’t help myself. Alphabetical shoes would really only help the person sent to the back room to find them. When you view all the available shoes for “At the office,” the search results group the shoes into pumps, flats and slingbacks – even if you don’t narrow to one of those options.

What can Piperlime do better?

No one’s perfect. Here’s a list of areas where they can improve:

  • In text searches, they offer facets to narrow the shoes down. They include shoe type (basically subcategories), brand, size, width, colour and price. It would be great if you could narrow browsed results the same way.
  • Their size facet needs some TLC. They’re mixing US and European sizes in a list when I’m pretty sure they are equivalent values.
  • If you want me to set up a profile, let me save my shoe size so you can personalize my search results. Basically, don’t show me what I can’t have (maybe with that half-size up in case I fall in love with those Betsey Johnson ballet shoes).
  • Bump up that font size a bit.
  • Ship to Canada, please. SoftMoc sells ugly shoes.

4 Responses to “E-commerce done right”

  1. Dethe Elza says:

    Too bad neither of these sites sell the Bates 924. I have exactly the kind of shopping phobia you mention: I find it very hard to find shoes which fit, so I don’t want to buy them online, but I haven’t been able to find anywhere in Vancouver that sells them. So I keep falling back on my default Rockports that I’m not totally happy with, but more or less fit.

  2. Joanna says:

    If they’re good enough for Stewart Brand, they must be good enough for anyone. I strongly urge you to try on a pair of Fluevogs (http://www.fluevog.com). They’re the only shoes that I know of that have a decade type of lifespan, and you can get them re-soled. Fluevog even has vegan shoes – if you’re so inclined.

  3. Corny jokes?

    Nice analysis of the site.

    Are they really that corny?

  4. Joanna says:

    The corny jokes are why I show up!