Fun is dangerous

Before we try to picture what fun looks like in ecommerce, we need to warn ourselves of the dangers of fun.

Nobody does that more eloquently than Ian Armstrong did in answering this question on Quora. I’ve quoted the salient bits below.

In order to support a vast horde of would be shoppers, it’s important to build your entire experience around exploratory behavior, remembering that the goal-oriented shopper still needs their short cuts (there is nothing more irritating to an informed shopper than knowing what they want but having to deal with experiential BS).

There is no amount of photography or blood red sale tape that will make shopping ‘addictive’, as you describe it.

That part is done by creating multiple relevant experience funnels for people to explore, and ruthlessly eliminating distractions in the funnel itself.

What exactly is ‘experiential BS’?

Let’s look at some of the ideas that are close to Ian’s ‘experiential BS’. Are they all bad?

1. The interactive film

Try Geox’s out for size (click on the screenshot below). I personally didn’t make it to the end.

The production value is great, and no doubt it created loads of buzz, but it’s not the future of ecommerce (and doubtless isn’t intended to be).

This Amphibiox site (aside from the film) does however include some fantastic product images (i), which the Geox site proper (ii) could benefit from.

control the weather - geox 

i) Large images on the Amphibiox site.


ii) Smaller product images on the main Geox site.

geox website

2. The quiz

Bonobos has a good example of a relatively fun quiz (if a bit lacking on the UX side) that is short and leads to a product recommendation (trousers).

The quiz asks you questions, including what facial hair you have, what sport you play, and if you have chicken legs, then spits out a pair of trousers. It worked perfectly for me, telling me what I already knew.

I think quizzes are a good option for a bit of PR for online retailers (if they’re done well), but the difficulty is that consumers generally don’t want to have their options narrowed down (unless they do it themselves).

Outside of fashion, in a market that’s a bit more complicated, quizzes can be a more functional way of determining requirements or capturing data.

bonobos quiz

bonobos quiz

3. The outfit-led front page

This is great in theory (it could be one of the ‘experience funnels’ Ian mentions), but the execution is difficult to get right.

Lots of clothes retailers have lookbooks on their websites, but it tends to be a fairly bland experience of clicking through page after page.

Here’s an example of outfits on a homepage, from & Other Stories.

The store itself is pretty much the hottest on London’s Regent Street (according to my wife), but this homepage experience, though perhaps intentionally low-fi/kitsch/naive, uses small pictures and when clicked gives a staccato slideshow experience.

When the site was launched in 2013, it felt relatively advanced (we reviewed it here), but aside from cleverly placing outfits amongst category listings (to up-sell), the site doesn’t do anything I would consider to be quirky in 2016.

See Net-a-Porter for a more sophisticated approach to editorial on the homepage.

& other stories

& other stories 

4. The virtual fitting room

This is one area I’ve always found uninspiring (and is no doubt quite pricey for retailers). Though it isn’t forced on the user, it can still be termed part of an ‘experience funnel’, so I thought I should include it here.

Here’s an Econsultancy article about virtual fitting rooms, including The key line from its author (in my opinion) is that ‘fitting rooms can create more problems than they solve’.

The upkeep of fitting room functionality is a pain for developers, it’s not ideally suited to time-constrained mobile users and even if it reduces return rate, there’s no way the tool can be a substitute for trying the clothes on.

Eyewear is a popular market for virtual fitting, allowing you to see yourself in a pair of glasses via your webcam.

Again, having used these solutions, they are sometimes marketed as fun experiences but in reality are fairly clunky and don’t give the best impression of the frames.

In conclusion virtual fitting rooms probably prove that online must play to its strengths, not try to ape the in-store experience.

Sizing guides, on the other hand, are definitely worth including (but probably not ‘fun’ either).

5. Customisation

Reebok, Nike and, I’m sure, many others allow you to customise some of their products. This is a very compelling proposition, especially online, where you’ve got time and peace to create your own design.

Obviously, this is only an option for retailers selling products that can be customised to a fairly high degree.

And even where this is available, the experience often feels like early web 2.0, with a smallish window, lots of tabs and clicking, and a bit of a lag (Nike ID is slightly better than Your Reebok).

My Own Bike is a slicker, German example. Indeed, in travel, the automobile market is a big area for this kind of feature.

your reebok

Surely it’s the product page that should be fun?

There’s a simple analogy between an online shop (I’m still thinking of clothing here) and a bricks-and-mortar store.

The homepage is the entrance (choose a floor or an aisle), the category pages are the aisles (browse the products), and product pages are the changing rooms (consider in detail).

Although I said in the intro that shopping online isn’t fun, there’s undoubtedly still a frisson when browsing.

That feeling of finding something special yourself, rather than having it thrust upon you.

What this means is that for those who don’t want the experiential lead-in, but still want to ferret out their buys, all of the ‘fun’ should come at the product page level.

This is where conversion can arguably be most influenced (aside from the checkout) and where shortcut buyers won’t get peeved by added features.

Some of the best product pages bring SKUs to life in a way that may not even be possible in store.

Here’s how:

1. Social photography has its own social network of sorts, called Made Unboxed, where users share pics of their homes. Its pretty good, great for the nosey, but where it really excels is on product pages. pulls in photos of the product you’re viewing, taken by other people in their homes.

They look great, and you can get a better idea of what the product looks like in ‘the real world’.


made unboxed photos

2. Lifestyle photography

There are some sites that go the extra mile with photography, with lifestyle shots in place of studio model shots. is a good example, admittedly for higher end clothing.

I found this feature enhanced the enjoyment of product discovery, particularly in this price range, which is more for the considered shopper.

3. Scrolling sales pitch

This is more common for considered purchases, such as cars. In this example, Bugaboo, product pages are an incredibly rich mix of instructional video, high def imagery, and detailed product specification.

Click through to explore.


4. Enormous product imagery

Bjorn Borg is a great example. I actually smiled to see such big pants. New Balance is another site that uses full-screen imagery.

Bjorn Borg

bjorn borg

New Balance 

new balance

5. Scrolling product imagery

I think this is a trend at the moment. Clicking can get tiresome, and isn’t right for mobile.

If product imagery scrolls, whilst product details stick in place, the whole browsing experience is more enjoyable.

This example is from Anine Bing.

anine bing

6. Product video

This is more along the lines of what Matt Curry was getting at. Rich product pages that are fun to explore, including video.

Everlane does product pages very well, indeed, including video. There could be more product info, but there is a sizing chart and I love the way the details tell you the height of the model and the size she is wearing in the photos.

Additionally, there’s a link to a delightful photo gallery of the cashmere factory that Everlane uses. This is all fun, thoughtful and persuasive.

N.B. Check out again to see excellent product page video (much longer in length).


Product video (just a snippet of the full video, which was about 15s long)

everlane video

Factory photo gallery


7. ‘Meet the designers’ also includes some smart ‘meet the designer’ interview features at the bottom of product pages.

These pieces are well written, interesting for the fashion devotee, and help to add some kudos to the product in question.


What else do you look for in a product page? You can read an in-depth analysis here: