We all know magazines and other print publications have been experiencing decreased readership and revenue in recent years. This is mostly due to the shift in the way readers consume content given the availability of more targeted and personally relevant offerings, which has, sadly, led to the slow adaptation of media conglomerates and publishers. From the beginning, the Internet/WWW by its very nature was a threat to traditional print media. The user experience associated with online content consumption far outweighs the glossy and tangible pages of print magazines. Like any mass market vertical, print has fallen from grace due to the original appeal of its generality and it’s boring, well-rounded writing.
There have been many attempts over the years to bridge this gap. Some of which have frankly been successful to my utter amazement. Most implementations are near direct ports of their low-tech paper cousins. Nearly all fail to make best use of the strengths of the platform upon which they’re built. Few, if any, innovate. One very popular and highly praised attempt, Net-A-Porter – by a self-described “online luxury fashion retailer” – tries to entice what they call a “style-savvy customer” with an eCommerce embedded content experience.
Recently, Andrew Davis (http://www.tippingpointlabs.com) reviewed the Net-A-Porter experience in his article, “Magazines as eCommerce Vehicles: Net-A-Porter’s App,” from which I drew inspiration to give Net-A-Porter an extensive look.
The magazine is available both on the Net-A-Porter website (http://www.net-a-porter.com/magazine) and as an iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch application in Apple’s App Store (http://www.net-a-porter.com/app).
Below are just some of my observations and a few suggestions specific to the iPad Device Platform.
Does the Net-A-Porter iPad App Make the Grade?
The Net-A-Porter iPad magazine is effectively an interactive shopping guide. Updated issues are available for download once a week. The interface provides the user with a toolbar navigation system located at the bottom of the screen. It contains page navigation elements and buttons labeled Cover, Contents, Library, Share, Settings, Wish List and Shopping Bag. Most of the navigation provides exactly the functionality a user would expect.
The experience overall is much like many of the other print-to-digital ports we have become accustomed to: swipe left and right between pages, tap points to reveal hidden content and occasionally watch a video (if you can get it to work). As you interact with the magazine and begin touching elements on the screen, it becomes very evident the point of this publication is to sell shoes, clothing and accessories. Nearly all the items on the screen are selectable. Sadly, most will take you in-and-out of the reading experience in hopes of making a sale. And that’s where the issues begin.
Attempting to add items to your “Wish List” requires signing in or, if you have yet to register, signing up by giving your email, first name, surname, password, re-typed password, country and pre-select to receive Net-A-Porter fashion news. Now, don’t get me wrong – I realize the business would like some user data. List creation of your products, however, is a poor time to ask for it. The user is not yet invested enough in the interaction to give that level of data at this stage. So, why deter them? Net-A-Porter stopped short of completing the user experience when they decided not to enhance my reading experience with a passive product browsing and sharing experience.
Am I Reading or Buying?
McPheters & Company praised Net-A-Porter as one of the most innovative iPad apps of 2010 citing, “Everything is, discretely, for sale.” This is, actually precisely one of the issues I’ve spotted in the application. Net-A-Porter’s focus is primarily on the eCommerce experience. As users come upon items of interest, they’re immediately redirected to an eCommerce experience that encourages purchasing. There is nothing “discrete” about it. The constant shift of the user’s experience between reading mode and buying mode confuses the user and creates too much cognitive load.
Users are subjected to a feeling of a lack of control, and the constant interruption of their reading experience results in a trust barrier that will limit their willingness to explore and interact with the products embedded in the issue. This makes it impossible to enjoy the content that presumably was being created to strengthen my impulse to buy. The interruption of the reading experience to the user is akin to traditional media advertising tactics. Net-A-Porter’s iPad Magazine is little more than a sparse content experience surrounding a re-skinned navigation for a traditional Web eCommerce engine.
Net-A-Porter could easily retain the reading mode while still encouraging shopping, and even offer their users a more personalized shopping experience should they change the format of their website. As Andrew Davis mentions in his impressions of Net-A-Porter, “The closer (and more seamless) the shopping cart is to the point of inspiration, the higher the likelihood a consumer will make the purchase (and in fact the larger their cart will be).”
How to Get Out of the Way and Support the Experience
Leveraging the main input ability of the iPad, users should be able to extend a touch on the screen to drag an item off the page into the foreground and into the “My List” widget as the page contents fade into the background.
The user is then able to return to their reading experience as the page contents are returned to the foreground. At any time, the user can resurface their list by double tapping the “My List” widget on the right.
Within said “My List” widget users can: 1) View Details of the respective products page, 2) Share Items with their friends on Facebook, 3) Share This List with their friends on Facebook, 4) View Comments and Leave their Own within the Net-A-Porter Community, 5) Save This List for future browsing after registering and 6) Shop This List by adding items to their Shopping Bag.
Rather than consistently interrupting reading mode to have users confronted with a potential purchase, users can comfortably browse “My List” consisting of their personalized choices to make their purchases. Davis expressed similar concerns about being forced out of the magazine experience to promote eCommerce, “Suddenly, I’m thrust out of the ‘browsing’ experience and I’m pushed into ‘purchase’ mode.”
Net-A-Porter’s “Shopping the Magazine” experience that comes at the end of the magazine would also benefit from similar customization by easing the transition from reading to buying. Personalized data that is relevant to the user will give the user the opportunity to review the items they expressed interest in, rather than sorting through a hodgepodge of items. Users will have the option to save, shop and share their list from this page.
Selecting the “Shop My List” button will bring users to a compiled, visual list of the items they have interacted with as well as a preview of their shopping bag beneath that.
Clicking on an item from their list, users will have access to an information box that is currently available on the Net-A-Porter iPad application. In it, the selected item’s image is magnified and juxtaposed with additional information as well as the option to add the item to the shopping bag.
I would also suggest an option to submit your body type. By constructing measurements and giving the user a more accurate impression of what the clothing would look like for them, this further personalized experience would prove to be an innovative step for eCommerce. An application like Fits.me encompasses this exact idea. Fits.me is an online, virtual fitting room that makes the sometimes disconcerting aspect of eCommerce less questionable.
Serving the Needs of the User Over the Company
As it stands, Net-A-Porter emphasizes a user interaction that directly benefits them. Namely, this entails forcing the user out of the experience of an online fashion magazine and into an eCommerce model. By providing a deeper interaction with the content – allowing users to explore both information about what is presented in the magazine as well as giving them the option to share that knowledge with their friends and family on Facebook – Net-A-Porter will inevitably gain both sales and readership.