One of the things you discover when doing competitive research across a retail vertical market is how skilled our industry has become at usability — and how much further we could go in branding.
During the 1990s, when web design was in its infancy, most business websites were brochures: heavy on branding, with almost no interactivity, and little if any thought given to the user. Today the opposite prevails: we are masters of anticipating our customers’ needs, but sometimes forget to tell our story.
How do you improve on a good thing?
When Betteridge Jewelers honored our design studio with their account, we took quick note of the superb functioning of their site’s ecommerce engine. Although no site of more than a couple of pages can ever be perfect, Betteridge came closer than most.
Their existing site ticked all the boxes: Fast, accurate search; check. Plenty of detailed information about every item in the inventory; check. Logical site structure with clear labelling; check. Helpful, high-quality photography, copy, and microcopy. Fluidly responsive design. Optimal speed and performance. Better than average accessibility.
Given how good the site was already, what could we as designers and developers do to make it better?
We began by studying competitors’ sites. Dozens of them. A few were equally performant, most weren’t. But almost every site we looked at had a common problem — a problem, we began to realize, that our client’s site shared. For all its superb functioning and near-seamless interactivity, our client’s site didn’t immediately convey the Betteridge story. Its mechanics were impeccable, but its brand story was easy to miss. Good design is often invisible. Good branding shouldn’t be. Brand should be felt, in every word, image, and action.
The soul of a family business
Betteridge has a real story to tell. A family business, launched in 1897 on two remarkable blocks of downtown and midtown Manhattan, it has been handed down from generation to generation. The company relocated its headquarters early in the 20th century to Greenwich, Connecticut, where Betteridge became an institution. People who bought their engagement rings at Betteridge had children who bought theirs there — and grandchildren who eventually did the same — often buying from sales people who had worked with their families for decades.
As the company’s local reputation deepened, they expanded to new markets. But always gradually, and with a craftsman’s care. Always with an eye on sustainability and a preference for the slow and steady.
Unlike many jewelers of their size, Betteridge creates as well as curates — they not only sell other companies’ fine jewelry, they also create their own. In a secret workshop below the company’s flagship store, passionate craftsmen design bespoke pieces that get handed down through generations.
As designers ourselves, we found Betteridge’s commitment to the personal and the bespoke inspiring and commendable. We thought it was their unusual level of care and thoughtfulness that kept their customers coming back. And that new customers would relate to these values, too — if we could properly convey them.
The Ghost in the Machine
This is no ordinary jewelry retailer. They could have no ordinary site.
Moreover, the client’s own knowledge (gleaned from hours of one-on-one interviews) told us, and our own research confirmed, that in jewelry, brand is everything.
Why does brand matter so much in this category? Consider that less than five percent of most jewelry company sales happen online. Of course the site must be perfect. It goes without saying that transactions should be seamless. But that’s table stakes.
To convince a potential customer to actually come in and talk to a salesperson, a jewelry website must do more than just work perfectly. It must seduce. It must talk to the customer in an authentic voice. It must convey the brand on every page of the site. If it doesn’t do that, there’s no reason to come in. And if you don’t come in, you don’t buy. When retailers with a solid product forget to build an online brand, they can keep the customers they already have — they just won’t attract new ones. We aimed to help our client attract new customers, while reminding the existing ones why they love (and their families trust) Betteridge.
Thus, almost from the first moments of research and discovery, we determined that every page of this new site — even the most pedestrian of functional pages — must tell the Betteridge brand story. Working closely with the Betteridge management and creative teams, we conceived of small innovations (such as “brand squares” that show up amid search results) that unobtrusively, delightfully, and consistently make the Betteridge brand story part of every interaction.
The old site offered a model ecommerce experience. The new site does, too — but adds to it the personal touches that invite visitors to slow down, breathe, and experience a more personal shopping experience.
Maybe it’s all those decades of listening to their customers that made the Betteridge people such thoughtful collaborators. We were also fortunate to work with MadisonMott, a content consultancy that helped us find words to express the Betteridge spirit.
The new site soft–launched on Friday, November 17. And now that this major redesign has set the table, we look forward to working with Betteridge and its content partner for years to come.
By embedding ourselves in the client’s culture, monitoring the site as closely as any in-house design team would, and proposing and testing new ideas over time, we hope to continue subtly improving the Betteridge online customer experience and deepening the company’s emotional connection with its customers.
Our responsibilities on this project
Research; user experience design; information architecture; content strategy; interface design; front-end code; pattern library development.