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J.Crew vs. Colette Online | DesignNotes by Michael Surtees

J.Crew vs. Colette Online

colette - 213 rue Saint-Honoré 75001 Paris_1262178362357

J.Crew - Cashmere, Sweaters, Women's Clothing & Dresses, Men's Clothing, Children's Clothing & Kids Clothes_1262178018179


Last night I was bouncing from blog to blog when I came across the french e–store Colette. Not having any prior history to the brand or their reputation my initial reaction to their online store was it makes me believe that there is an even more interesting bricks n’mortar shop there. Within a couple minutes of mentioning that a friend asked what do you like about that e-shop? I didn’t love it particularly. One of my faves is J.Crew for navigation, browsing etc…. Since I’m always interested in unexpected mashup’s to create a new meaning I thought comparing J.Crew to Colette would be an interesting exercise.

At first glance it might be fair to say each site is designed particularly well for their intended audience. J.Crew is slightly more affluent on the professional side while Colette is more aspirational on the younger side. Keeping that in mind is important because it allows me to get the user segmentation out of the way of who’s better—neither, they’re just different. But as I was clicking around Colette there were some observations worth noting that I didn’t see with J.Crew that I think are worth thinking about.

For the longest time real stores didn’t have much of an online presence. Some would still claim those flash microsites haven’t really helped do much to enhance brands either. On the other side was Amazon which wasn’t pretty but you could buy almost anything online very quickly, but they didn’t have any physical assets like a storefront. Today stores like J.Crew get the fact that an easy online presence is going to help their online sales front immensly. But it’s so clean that I have to question why I would bother ever going to their physical store again? It’s a strange rational but when I compare it to Colette I’m wondering if their online site is kind of exploratory in a non frustrating way, I’d be really curious to see what their physical store is like. It’s an inverse of the offline and online retailer. The physical places are going to try to squeeze into the digital while the digital want something physical.

There’s a couple other distinctions that I noticed. J.Crew is essential an online catalogue while Colette is emphasizing a lifestyle. Most sites should avoid music but with them it drew me in. I’m actually listening to their site as I do this post. Their music choice goes a long way as part of their curation of what they like. Their curation is magnified with the choice products while J.Crew is stuck showing all their stuff together. Maybe it’s just me but a person should rarely dress head to foot in the same brand. But that’s all J.Crew can push.

So if I take a bunch of elements like exploration + music + lifestyle + curation & I want to visit their store, and compare that to an online catalogue, who has the better experience?

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  • http://www.twitter.com/tinkugallery Amrita

    Hi Michael,

    I've been looking forward to your take on Colette vs. J. Crew, mainly because my reaction to the Colette e-shop was so different from yours. You are right that the audiences for both are different so it is not exactly an apples to apples comparison. The other question I would add up front is – is the goal of an e-shop to entice people to the online store or to sell online?

    Both stores use music, though J.Crew doesn't make it a standard feature – instead they weave it into documentary-style videos of their shoots. With JCrew, that gives me some sort of “warning” that music is starting, vs Colette, which annoys me with the music that turns on as soon as the site loads.

    I like the idea of curation but Colette shows such a small % of their stock online, I was left feeling like they are making a half-effort, rather than a curated effort. (They would fit right in with most Canadian e-tailers!) Instead they could use their website to create more dynamic experiences using video/animation/photography to give a flavour of what their bricks-and-mortar stores are like, if the goal of the e-shop is to bring people into the store.

    You are right that J.Crew's online store is a more catalogue-like experience, since that's where its roots lie. I think that is helpful from a navigation point of view – I can find what I'm looking for easily. Yet the scrolling images at the top put clothes together in combinations I wouldn't have figured out on my own and highlight pieces I may not have seen at all. For a lot of shoppers, this is helpful – i.e. the curation is in the styling.

    I agree that the J.Crew online experience makes it less necessary for people to visit their physical stores. But I am not sure that's a bad thing.

    One final point of difference – J.Crew is actually not as upscale as Colette, in terms of their pricing & brand so it's interesting to me that you got that impression. I think J.Crew's physical stores are a step down from their online experience in terms of perceived affluence, whereas Colette is the opposite.

    Enjoyed this post!

  • http://www.coencoffeng.nl/ Coen Ruben

    Interesting article Michael! Funny thing is, just two weeks ago I was in Paris and visited Colette myself.

    It is truly an amazing store (if you have a lot to spend). You really need to go there!

  • http://designnotes.info/ michaelsurtees

    Thanks for putting in the time to respond Amrita.

    Anytime an e–shop goes up, the people behind it are hoping to sell stuff. But the sale might not be immediate, setting the right mood and tempo takes time. Maybe a person visits a site many times before they decide to buy, or maybe it's the opposite and it's impulse and with a simple click stuff is bought. That scene takes place all the time, not just on J.Crew's or Colette's site.

    Not to be too biased but the music thing could be generational, and to be honest if you only had time to check one store Colette might not be it. That sort of goes to who's the person most likely to enjoy the experience of Colette. The same goes for the curation of stuff. It's pretty subjective—I'd rather see ten really exceptional things than thirty okay products. I also think you might be missing the point of the photos and store like replica site. Digital is different so it doesn't need to look like the store. A lot of people hate the style of photos that AA uses, me not so much. It's their distinct look. For Colette they're being inspired by myspace is guesstimate.

    Also, my point about online and offline stores is more about perception and goes back to my original premise about why someone would bother starting an online shop. Sure it's too make purchases but also enhance the brand.

    Hopefully that didn't come across too weird…

  • http://www.twitter.com/tinkugallery Amrita

    Hmmm, not sure my points came across. Either that or you think I am old and uptight :p

    I agree that digital doesn't need to replicate the physical – my point was that the brand experience should be seamless across different touchpoints. From the reputation Colette has, I didn't think the e-shop presented a great online experience, at least not to me. It reminds me in some ways of the MoMA website – conceptually some good things but execution-wise, not great.

  • http://nicolasgabard.tumblr.com/ NicolasGabard

    Mickael, i really like the very creative idea of comparing this two eshops. Just a precision for the french Colette. It used to be the temple of the “hype” (snob?) in Paris. Everythinks's hyper trendy and hyper expensive ;-). But it sounds that this “place to be” has lost a bit of its luster. And (sorry Coen) but i don't think you really need to go there if you go to Paris.