Brahmin is a family-owned, Massachussetts-based manufacturer of luxury handbags. They have a high fashion profile and a loyal customer base. The news section of their site details the frequent appearances of Brahmin products on the arms of celebrities and in the pages of fashion magazines.
The team at Newfangled proved to be the perfect partner in launching our new and improved site. Our main objective was to improve the overall shopping experience while maintaining the upscale high-fashion design that matched our brand. Newfangled fully understood our needs of combining design and functionality. We look forward to continuing our success with Newfangled as we continue to grow and improve our business.
– Amy Sullivan, Business Development Manager, Brahmin
Brahmin's previous site was primarily flash based. Increasing usability for both customers and site administrators was a high priority for the project, as well as updating the site's aesthetic to match offline branding. Duffy & Shanley provided the site's design, which showcases Brahmin's high-quality product imagery. The site launch was timed to coincide with the debut of a new advertising campaign in the September issue of Vogue.
Planning and Prototyping
Since Brahmin.com is a fashion retail site, the overarching goal was to make it easy for customers to find and buy the right product. All decisions during the prototyping stage were based on a combination of Brahmin's knowledge of their customers and Newfangled's guidance about usability and information architecture. For major decision points, the team looked at successful existing models, weighed the pros and cons, and decided on the solution that provided the smoothest experience for customers.
Some of the decisions that were made during this stage:
How can we best help customers to find the product they're looking for?
Possible options included complex filtering systems and traditional multi-variable advanced searches. But in the end, simplicity combined with flexibility won out. Customers who want to browse and see the options can use the site's main navigation, which shows bags grouped by the most common criteria (bag type, collection, color). Meanwhile, customers who have something more specific in mind can use the site's advanced text search, which accepts intuitive combinations of terms and provides a results list that updates on the fly. Making the search more technically advanced actually makes it easier to use for customers with all different levels of comfort with technology.
Should customers be able to check out without creating an account?
There were good arguments on both sides of this question. Against requiring accounts: creating an account is an extra step where a user could give up. Not requiring an account means one less barrier to completing the checkout. For requiring accounts: users without accounts would not be able to take advantage of features like tracking their shipments after ordering. The solution decided on was a system that integrates account creation into the checkout process as needed, so that it takes place automatically without appearing to the customer as an extra step or requiring any information beyond what's needed to make the purchase in the first place.
How should addresses be dealt with during the checkout?
There are lots of different models for approaching this question on different ecommerce sites. Here again, many of the considerations were based on Brahmin's business model and customer base. Given the number of repeat customers and customers purchasing gifts, it was likely that many people would want to ship to different addresses for different orders. Shipping would not be not available for all locations, but in some cases, a non-shippable location would be the customer's billing address.
The solution is that when customers reach the shipping options, all of their previously used addresses show, but the ones that are not valid shipping options are grayed out so they can't be selected. Once an address is chosen, the page dynamically updates with only the shipping options available for that address.
At each of these decision points, using an HTML prototype allowed the team to walk through the process and get a reasonably realistic preview of the potential customer's experience.
This project started with Newfangled's core website management system, with a database customized to handle the complexities of all the different product relationships involved. As with many ecommerce sites, this one needed to integrate smoothly with the internal systems that Brahmin uses to manage their orders and inventory--the site had to talk with the warehouse. To meet that need, Dave built an API encapsulating all of the order functionality, which allows Brahmin to access pending orders and update inventory and shipping info as often as needed.