Selling clothing online is no easy task. It's hard to compete with the physical experience of a fitting room, but e-tailers are finding ways to make it work, like the new trend of blending editorial content with commerce to create retail sites that rival fashion magazines. Mr Porter, which sells attire and accoutrements for discerning gentlemen, does this very well. As Lauren Indvik on Mashable put it, Mr Porter's home page "feels more like opening a magazine spread than entering an online shopping destination."
I surrendered to the medium and browsed the current "issue" (the site publishes new articles weekly), eventually landing on a page for a denim jacket by Nudie Jeans via a "Mr Porter Sessions" music video featuring
some indie rock band from Tennessee The Apache Relay. The band members, of course, sport outfits from Mr Porter that are detailed in an article below the video. (Don't be misled, this screenshot is not of the product page in question. Think of it as a gateway to the product page and to my critique.)
The site goes so far as to the descriptive copy for their products "Editors' Notes." The first two sentences of those notes cover key style features: heavily washed denim, slim fitting, all season, all American. Introduction successful.
I think it's a mistake to feature the brand name more prominently than the product name--"Nudie Jeans" is a somewhat misguided header--but I suppose that's a result of fashion magazine ethos.
The hardest part of apparel retail to reproduce in the digital medium is fit; that's why so many retailers are experimenting with virtual dressing rooms. Mr Porter obviously favors writing over visual for their bells and whistles, but the company does what it can to give shoppers a decent idea of how an article of clothing might fit, going so far as to suggest what size to choose to best match the look of the model. Here's what the "Size & Fit" tab tells us:
And, although it was harder to find, the site provides measurements of each size of the jacket. That's about as thorough a fit portrayal as one can hope for without throwing a webcam into the mix.
Lest you wonder, there's more content under Editors' Notes and a third tab for additional product details, and it's also all very good. I like to know what kind of hardware my jackets have.
Product images on this page are remarkably unremarkable. That is, they are everything I would expect--the jacket is shown on and off a body, multiple closeups of detailing are included, the images are all zoomable--and nothing I wouldn't.
The denim jacket has a universal style: washed denim set off by yellow stitching, buttons (never zippers), and a couple of pockets. That ubiquity might account for my relative disinterest in most of these product images (is there anything to be gained from looking at the inside front flap?), but I do appreciate their presentation and consistency. For many other jackets or vests on the site, I would gain something by looking at the inside front flap; no reason to leave the denim jacket out of the fun.
Clothing doesn't generally require extra parts, but it does have a critical little tag with fabric type and care instructions. Providing that information is the closest to fulfilling this requirement an apparel product page can get, and Mr Porter does it well. Also neatly slipped in with logistical details: you can have your free return picked up at your office, should you desire.
I love an accordion menu. In fact, I love almost everything about this page's design. The images switch seamlessly within the window. Zoom also happens in the main window (well, within its very own scroll-over zoom window). And ease of navigation is respected--I still have to click on the image to zoom and click on a heading to switch tabs in the menu. It may seem subtle, but few things about page design bother me more than pop-up zoom that happens whenever I happen to mouse across an image (same goes for accordion tabs that open and close in relation to mouse position).
I must say, the content and commerce model seems powerful. Then again, this product page has nothing going for it that it couldn't have all on its own without the surrounding editorial content. I wonder what this new breed of retail site will mean for print magazines.