Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Dreaming Of Socks

This is going to sound strange, but pay attention. There are lessons here.

A few days back I discovered a new web site. Well whoop-de-do, you say. Who hasn’t? At least one a day. Or more. True. One point to you, but who’s keeping score? That wasn’t the main idea anyway, just the intro.

Here’s the deal. This site has a lot going for it, a lot of things everyone can learn from, and it’s worth investigating, especially so if you are a woman or know one. (How universal is that?) So if you want to stop reading here and do your own looking and thinking, go right now to Sock Dreams. Whether or not you come back is your decision, as they all are.

Here’s what I see that makes an impression on me.

First, the site is distinct, unusual. In a good way. You won’t accidentally mistake this site for another, although its basic structure is pretty average. There is a big banner at the top with a navigation bar just under it. Main content is placed vertically along the left side. On the right is access to the shopping cart, to a search option, and a menu listing more specific product categories.

There is nothing unusual about this, but the graphic designer made it look special. The colors on the navigation bar don’t quite “match” in a way we’ve all gotten used to. They aren’t all the same, or shades of one color marching in a steady procession from one end to the other but they work together to make a person curious about where they lead.

The type flows. The home page is full of curves, inviting. There is white space. No crowding. What you see first is “Welcome Sock Lovers & Dreamers!”, and then some clues about what kind of place you have found: “Female owned & operated in Portland Oregon since 2000. We’re not your usual sock shoppe, nor do we intend to be.”

There is a large logo under the introductory text. For me this is a little too big and a little too flashy, but it is distinct, and helps establish the site as a non-corporate sort of place.

Overall the site works, and well. It is quirky, unusual, unique even. And that is good. The site is colorful and well organized. There is a good use of Flash, normally the bane of web sites. Usually Flash is applied with a shovel by inexperienced designers gone amok, eager to show cleverness and ignorant of business needs, but here, in one small pane on the home page, it works, simply and unobtrusively. This one little view displays a few rotating product shots without either locking up the whole site or driving visitors away, screaming.

So right up front this site establishes what it is about and what you can expect. It looks simple but isn’t. There nooks and hidey-holes, surprise turns, several ways of getting to products and information about the products. Come in through the main menu and peruse general products. Then click on an image somewhere and pop up inside a whole line of similar products, or a line of products from one manufacturer, or somewhere else again. It’s all good.

Exploring here is like being in a funhouse, a friendly one. You don’t care about getting lost or being abandoned at some dead end, and you aren’t. This is rare.

Images, images everywhere. Though I can’t find it now, I believe I saw a statement that the owner, Niqkita, does most of the photography. Whoever does it, it is stunning. These are not standard catalog shots. They are not socks pinned to the wall. Each image is unique. Each one is interesting. The models and sets vary. Many are outdoors. Each color of a sock has its own image, with the model in a fresh pose. Nothing stale here at all.

I know exactly how a guy sees the product shots, and I can understand why the name of this business was once “Fetishize Me”. I can almost guess how women see them. Almost. It must be fun. But not kinky. This isn’t a sex shop, but more like a playground. Or a party.

There is a lot for young spicy women, but also for every other woman, and for every girl you can imagine. That is made clear. The owners and staff are obsessed with socks and things (anklets, arm warmers, foot care products, footie socks, garter belts, gloves, half socks, knee highs, leg warmers, leggings, midcalves, over the knee, petticoats, scarves, sock garters, t-shirts, thigh highs, toe socks, washing supplies, wrist bands...and more).

The “About” page is personable and interesting. It is clear. It is easy to read. It was not written by a software program, a lawyer, or a corporate drone. The story begins with “Years ago there was a girl whose feet were always cold”, and goes on from there to tell the story of the business and the sock faeries who work there. You end up dead certain that you will be dealing with real people.

Want to know about shipping and payment policies? Just go to the pages that deal with them. There is no need to enter into a transaction just to get to the buried shipping options page, only to find that they can’t deliver to you anyway. Many, many other sites get this wrong. Many of those sites belong to large businesses, and they all deserve to close.

Not Sock Dreams, which also has a simple and interesting FAQ page, with photos, and easy links to more information. Again, it’s all up front, well written, sprightly, and easy to get to.

One feature I stumbled on, one that isn’t openly linked to, is a weblog (the “Sock Journal”). This illustrates two more good aspects of this site. First, it is focused. The blog does not have long rambling stories about vacations, or recipes, or politics, or relatives. It’s about socks, and illustrated. Every post leads back to the store somehow, but with a soft sell. It is all lighthearted and full of photos. Once again, the quality of the photos is fantastic and they help breathe more life into the products.

Second, there is an ongoing dialog between the owner and her customers. They share their experiences and their exuberance for socks. Sounds silly, but the customers go nuts for it. They love socks and the shop. The owner loves socks and loves helping her customers. And it keeps the store thriving.

The overall approach of this site is humble and playful. It represents a business but one with heart. Each part of the site is focused. The owner makes it clear that she does not and will not carry every product, and gives her reasons. You understand. It’s about socks and she wants to keep it that way. And you end up agreeing.

References:

Sock Dreams
Sock Journal


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