Part art gallery, part nightclub, part high-fashion retail extravaganza, Colette has redefined the luxury lifestyle retail experience with a concept store that has successfully become a brand in and of itself. Located in the heart of Paris, folks liken the Colette experience to falling into the pages of a fashion magazine. Out to be the epicenter of all that is hip, Colette's tagline simply reads "Style design art food" -- and the absence of more intricate descriptors underlines that point. We recently traveled to Colette's website to see if its mystique carries the same je ne sais quoi online.
An initial click launches an elaborate Flash introduction that features a black and white illustration of the store itself, with animated brand mascots Caperino & Peperone bouncing about to theme music plucked from Colette's own compilation CD (a prime example of how the company is reaching beyond retail to become more of a cultural experience). These doggies even have an online gazette, and cleverly peppered among the cutesy content is Colette's current featured products.
The home page illustration has various doorways that click through to six light product pages divided into "Lessons" (e.g., #1 Style, #2 Design, #3 Art), poised to sell Colette's wide assortment of limited edition and co-branded products such as books from exhibiting artists, framed Polaroids with images of "Cap & Pep," and Eau de Colette, its own brand of perfume. Rolling over the products elicits a cute popping noise, and visitors can click and drag on the images, although doing so serves no particular purpose.
The effort to turn Colette into a lifestyle brand is well reflected on the site, with numerous value-added extras like a downloadable PDF version of the brand's magazine, and a Colette radio station featuring fashionable tracks that are also sold on Colette branded CDs.
A site representing such a sophisticated retail brand should, by right, have a well-developed online retail presence as well. There is an e-tail function, although with such sophisticated design elements everywhere else on the site, the functionality could use some further development.
Pop-ups are omnipresent, and Colette.fr is designed to launch one just about whenever a new site section opens. There is something awkward about this functionality in a design sense, not to mention the inconvenience it causes for users armed with pop-up blockers. When a product is clicked on to be purchased, a pop-up product descriptor launches with a purchase option. Pop-ups also appear when visitors go looking for value-added content, such as exhibiting artist bios or store news. One convenient site page is the "Product List," which of course is a pop-up with thumbnail images of each item, giving visitors a convenient way to view everything sold online at once.
As the ever-expanding Colette brand is poised as the apex of international hipness, the site is designed well in accordance. All in all, Colette online could easily be likened to some designer clothing -- fun to look at, but a preoccupation with being so "avant" takes away from its usability. Improvements might include moving away from those nasty pop-ups to develop a more seamless e-tail design that better translates Colette's unique brand experience online, making it more accessible to those who might not make it to Paris.