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Obviously I’m biased. I buy a lot of records. I write about music on a daily basis. I’m a sucker for online shopping. Therefore Norman Records hits my sweet spot.

There are plenty of other record stores out there that have a perfectly acceptable online presence, but most are in dire need of a responsive design, and none of them are as unique, personality-filled and containing quite as many brilliant idiosyncratic features as Norman Records. 

This isn’t intended as a niche post that’s only relevant to the vinyl obsessed out there, I’m covering this store because there’s so many features and lessons here that any ecommerce site can learn from.

The move from the old site to a newly responsive one was not without it challenges. I talked to Norman Records directors Phil Leigh and Nathon Raine yesterday and their opinions and access to stats are scattered throughout this review. 

Responsive design

Norman Records puts usability and function above all else. The aesthetic design of the store is simple and geared towards ease of use, but also allows the character of the site and its staff to shine through.

As Nathon states:

We have always tried/wanted to put UX at the heart of what we do, but without resources (we have a digital team of one i.e. me, and no agencies to support us) it's exceptionally difficult.

This is how the site’s homepage looked before the redesign.

Although not a massive aesthetic change, it’s more of a subtle rework. With fewer but larger images, cleaner navigation and much improved links.

Luckily one of the great things about selling records is that it’s a product that will always be entirely conducive to looking great in any template or flat-design obsessed trend and are perfect for shrinking down within a responsively designed site.

Responsive design, or at least a mobile optimised or adapted site, is a must for all ecommerce businesses, especially those with an offline presence. 

Most of my favourite independent record stores run excellent and comprehensive desktop websites, but almost all of them have ignored the mobile user.

This is a huge oversight. I spend half of my life in actual record shops and the other half browsing images of vinyl online. Surely for independent record shops, a big part of defending themselves against the threat of MP3 download and streaming sites would be making their ecommerce sites entirely accessible on all devices.

However, going back to Nathon, the move to responsive needs to be a carefully planned one.

The responsive launch was not an immediate success. Our conversion rate actually dropped for mobile and tablet devices in the first few weeks, dipping as low as 1.27% from the pre-responsive average of 1.62%.

It seems Norman Records had stripped too many features out from the old site. 

In an effort to present fewer features and less information to mobile and tablet users we ditched things that people needed (specifically, menu items and filtering options). This seemed particularly true for tablet users: the metrics for the old, unresponsive were almost universally better than for the new responsive site.

As soon as we started putting some of those things back in - with the aid of Optimizely, Qualaroo, etc. - the conversion rate quickly improved. Conversion rate for mobiles/tablets in May was 1.94%. A 20% improvement on the 1.62% pre-responsive average.

Moral of the story: responsive design *on its own* won't do the trick, and can even be harmful to your mobile/tablet prospects. But in conjunction with the usual UX work it offers clear benefits.

Norman Records then spent a time reintroducing lost and newly redeveloped UX features, with the guidance of Optimizely, Qualaroo and customer feedback. A couple of months ago it grouped them the ones it was most proud of together in one handy link, as well giving them their own links across the top menu.

The pop-up question appeared as this little neat box in the corner that you could easily minimise or fill-in at your own leisure

Here are some of the best features Norman Records introduced based on the feedback given…

Loyalty scheme

This is called NormanPoints. The site describes best… “With our slightly ramshackle 'Click and Collect' service we occasionally joked about being a crap Argos. Well now we can also joke about being a rubbish Tesco”

Basically every £10 you spend on records is currently worth 100 NormanPoints and 100 NormanPoints are worth £0.10.

It’s a great way to foster loyalty and keep customers coming back for more. It also encourages customers to register their details with the site, as this is the only way you can retain your points.

New customer discount

However much you spend on your first order, 10% of it will be credited back to you (once it ships) in the form of a gift voucher to spend on your second order. Almost guaranteeing a second visit and encouraging first time customers to spend more. 

You’ll also receive a NormanPoints bonus if you recommend a friend.

Other unique shopping options:

As mentioned previously, Norman has a click and collect service to save on shipping. It also offers what it calls a stasher account which means that rather than having each order sent out individually, the store can build up a 'stash' for you and send it out in one go. Thereby saving you money on shipping.

There’s also a pay later checkout which very generously reserves a record for you (or even orders it in for you especially) ensuring you won’t miss out on an item if funds are low. Once the order is ready to ship, Norman Records will make up to three requests for payment, at intervals of a week. If you do not pay for your order within 7 days of the final request it will be cancelled and your items returned to the shelves.

Social proof

Norman Records uses the persuasive power of social proof all over the... uh… shop.

There’s a specific link on the menu to ‘feedback’, which takes you through to a regularly updated page where it has embedded loads of social media updates thanking Norman for its service.

On the product pages themselves there’s a button that shows how many customers also love the album, as well as pointing out that the store itself recommends it along with an aggregated customer/staff score out of five. 

There then follows a good mixture of well-written staff reviews and fittingly colorful customer reviews. There’s also the added incentive that the best customer review every week gets a £10 voucher.

Content

Norman Records has been doing content marketing for 14 years and this is dominated by its reviews. 

As Phil states

We have always had a personable approach (pre Twitter) which was mainly showcased in our reviews. I've always been under the impression that when people buy online (which is a hugely impersonal experience) that it's best to try and make the whole process as friendly and informal as possible and if you can make folks laugh along the way you're doing something right. I think people want to know there are real people at the other end and when you're dealing with something as emotive as music then it seems important to me.

I covered Norman Records' commitment to great content in five evocative examples of ecommerce copywriting. All the albums have reviews or blurbs written by the staff themselves, there’s none of the copying and pasting of press-releases that most other music sites tend to practice.

What’s more, the reviews are incredibly well written. Full of wit and verve. Here’s the review for Swans’ ‘To Be Kind’.

Even the caveat that ‘all reviews are simply the personal opinions of our staff and customers’ links to this wonderful piece of copy.

Norman Records is a good example of the power of original content. I’m far more likely to trust the person behind the counter’s opinion or recommendation than the blurb written by multiple hands in a marketing department. 

Social

Norman Records has been on Twitter since July 2011. It's now the fourth highest source of traffic behind Google (all organic), email and direct. It provides 8% of Norman Records’ traffic and 6% of the revenue. Facebook provides 5% of traffic and 3% of revenue. 

Compare this to email marketing which brings in 20% of traffic and 21% of revenue and Google which provides 42% of traffic and 37% of revenue it’s clear where Norman Records is achieving the most reach.

However as Nathon says

Even though it doesn't seem to have *directly* measurable results on traffic and revenue there does seem to be some kind of parallel between our growth since 2011 and our increased use of social channels. Whether this is correlated or not I have no idea. But as a company that has always been a bit, um, backwards when it comes to marketing, I suspect that Twitter in particular and Facebook to a lesser extent have helped us build our brand up over the past three years.

Norman’s Records is a pleasure to follow on Twitter, mainly due to its cavalier attitude to marketing new releases…

It’s this attitude that makes me trust it more and this healthy disregard for bullshit carries over directly to the matter-of-fact ecommerce site.

Registration

Registration is a simple one-step process with few necessary details needed and large text boxes.

Then there comes this brilliant incentive to sign up to the newsletter.

500 bonus NormanPoints is a minimal outlay for Norman Records in getting some valuable data from you and opening up one of its most successful channels.

Happily the next screen shows you how easy it is to manage your email alerts.

Cart

Free shipping offers are clearly stated in a link at the top of every page.

Norman Records uses a cheeky bit of persuasion here, that’s perfectly in tone with the rest of the site.

This then links to a specific landing page, where customer can fill up on recommended releases from staff members or other customers.

The shopping cart itself is clearly laid out with large call-to-actions and obvious shipping costs.

There’s also a wide array of shipping options available here and of particular note to the vinyl fan, packaging options too. 

Norman Records takes its packaging very seriously and in the link at the top of the page ’superb packaging’ in shows you a step by step visual guide to its packing options.

It’s this attention to detail, along with a customer-first focus, personable down-to-Earth tone of voice and an incredible variety of options that makes Norman Records a fantastic example of ecommerce.

Christopher Ratcliff

Published 18 June, 2014 by Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff is the editor of Methods Unsound. He was the Deputy Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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Comments (5)

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Colm McCrory, Head of eCommerce & Digital at Waterstones

I knew that Swans would make it on here one day. Been using Norman Records for years and great to see them get some recognition. All the points listed here are great and good to see how they learnt from their mistakes and change quickly, as well as listening to their customers.

almost 2 years ago

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Tom Spooner

Great read. I'm a big fan of Norman Records and enjoyed this fantastic piece - thorough and insightful. Cheers.

almost 2 years ago

Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff, Editor at Methods Unsound / Search Engine Watch

@Colm Thanks very much for your comment. It was great to get an honest insight from the team there on how they dealt with the challenges.

You'll also be surprised to learn quite how many articles are written here soundtracked by experimental noise-rock.

Apart from Fridays. That's strictly an 80s Madonna day.

almost 2 years ago

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Colm McCrory, Head of eCommerce & Digital at Waterstones

It's Arab Strap from 9-5 here on a Friday.

almost 2 years ago

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Spencer Hudson, Internet Technical Solutions Manager at ghdSmall Business Multi-user

interesting read especially the social aspects to their online work.

over 1 year ago

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