Sharper Image: A lesson in online branding

In a special case study report, Best Practices shows the successes and failures of one powerful offline brand as it builds its online experienceSuccessful e-commerce sites know that the brand is not determined by a logo, a color palette or a clever marketing slogan. On the Web, the brand is the experience.

In a special case study report, Best Practices shows the successes and failures of one powerful offline brand as it builds its online experience

Successful e-commerce sites know that the brand is not determined by a logo, a color palette or a clever marketing slogan. On the Web, the brand is the experience. If visitors have a good experience on a site, they'll return as loyal customers and encourage others to do the same. In other words, creating a good customer experience will create a good online brand.

"Names like Igia CeluLift and Cordless Personal Wand were lost on customers, who showed no interest in clicking on every product name that confused them."

This brief case study of sharperimage.com has a simple message: offline brands must embrace clarity online. Sharper Image is a well-known offline brand. Part of the mass appeal of Sharper Image comes from its futuristic, flashy products. Nevertheless, user tests conducted by Creative Good on Aug. 11-12 (please note our disclaimer on evaluation dates) showed that Sharper Image’s online store succeeds as long as it offers a clear, simple customer experience.

Arriving on the www.sharperimage.com home page, most customers clicked into a Product Category page, shown below:

Users were asked to try Sharperimage.com only if they already were familiar with Sharper Image. These Sharper Image aficionados had no complaints with the Product Category page. Categories were clearly listed with no other page elements competing for the customer’s attention.

The clarity on the category page, however, ended when customers clicked into a list of products. Shown below is an excerpt of the Personal Care & Fitness page, containing some strange product names indeed.

Names like Igia CeluLift and Cordless Personal Wand were lost on customers, who showed no interest in clicking on every product name that confused them. Consider the difference between Sharper Image’s offline and online customer experiences:

  • Offline, the product name is one small element in the Sharper Image experience: In-store customers can see, touch, and try out a product. The product name adds to the aesthetic experience.
  • Online (in the current design), the product name is the gateway to all product information and the buying process. The product name is primarily functional, not aesthetic.
Sharper Image is in a bind. How can it modify its Web site to sell items like the Cordless Personal Wand?

For customers who may be turned off by a list of unfamiliar brand names, sharperimage.com could do a couple of things to improve the user experience:

  • Include brief product descriptions beside each product name.
  • Organize categories into smaller sets of products and add thumbnail graphics of products in the product listing.
  • Add to product names to make them clearer. (“Igia Celulift Electric Massager”, for example.)

On the positive side, customers who do click on a product name are taken to a well-designed product page. Notice the following about the product page:

  • Both the product description and graphic clarify any confusion over the product name.
  • The “Add to Shopping Basket” button is prominently located on the top of the page. Customers who scrolled down through the entire product description will appreciate having the opportunity to buy the product from the bottom of the page. Online, redundancy is often a good idea — especially with the Buy button.


What to learn from Sharper Image

  • Offline brands must embrace clarity online.
  • Online, the brand is determined by the experience.
  • Be redundant with the Buy button.

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