“Let’s do it like Flyeralarm does” – the ‘copy & paste’ culture afflicting online store design and development

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Learning from those that are successful – who doesn’t want to do that. Well now, we monitor plenty of online stores and to some extent are less than impressed by current re-designs. Many store movers and shakers prefer to copy the strategies and GUI ideas of others. That’s a pity, because there are formulas that definitely work …

The major online print stores are due a re-design every 18 months or so. While the major providers like Flyeralarm, Cewe or even Onlineprinters have whole hordes of screen designers and programmers at their disposal, smaller providers have to be more circumspect. Otherwise a re-design very quickly becomes an expensive undertaking. Granted, the inexperience of some online print providers plays a major role here, because they often forget when designing/developing the initial versions of their online stores that  these need to be brought up to state of the art at some stage. And that’s when they are faced with a huge dilemma… because they suddenly realize that a modern design or even a responsive design is not compatible with the “proprietary” store system developed “back then”.

So what does the resourceful entrepreneur of the German persuasion do to save money? Exactly, he simply copies the logic and the structure used by major online stores in the hope of basking a little in the ‘glory’ (=sales) of the market leaders. Well, to be accurate, he only copies those bits that he likes and ultimately only usually creates a poor imitation of the original. So there’s a good reason why so many online stores simply look so atrocious. While it might still be a deliberate ploy by  Wir-machen-Druck to opt for an “inexpensive” design in order to reinforce the notion of “this is where bargains are to be had” in buyers’ minds, it simply is a nonsense in visual and logic terms if others do the same.

Where has this attitude come from? Why are firms prepared to pay 7-figure amounts for a printing press in the blink of an eye – but not even 10% of those amounts to develop a proper user interface? (Just to put it in a nutshell, I am not talking about the overall store design, just about creating a proper customer journey and a half-decent design.) The answer is obvious – while the really great stores are designed by “genuine” onliners – “online converts” like to tinker about with their stores, almost designing them according to their gut feeling rather than in accordance with the needs of online users.

“Online converts” –is Zipper talking nonsense? I would say not. Because if you take a closer look, online print providers that action their own distinct concepts are usually either lateral entrants to the printing industry  or have many years of eCommerce experience. Flyeralarm, Cimpress, Spreadshirt or even Wir-machen-Druck spring to mind here– these are all companies with their own concepts and ideas and a clear eBusiness-focused point of departure. “Online converts” on the other hand are primarily print companies that use the Internet as a sales and distribution channel and tend to underestimate the effort required to action a fit-for-purpose online store.

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“As far as CX, UX and usability are concerned, even Flyeralarm et al still have to do their homework – plagiarism won’t help at all!” – Bernd Zipper

And so it’s inevitable that once the re-design of a major online store suddenly goes live, you find a whole host of small, unfortunately usually poor clones on the Internet in the months that follow. My advice is: yes you can learn from the major providers – but please invest the time in developing your own concept and – even as the boss – perhaps in learning beforehand (!) what really matters on the Internet. Incidentally that is also the background to the executive and employee qualification, which I shall shortly be offering in partnership with the VDMB and manymize (details can be obtained from www.vdmb.de/e-business-manager).

Therefore what I believe should apply is that, yes, as an online print provider you should keep an eye on your competitors. Yes, you can even “borrow” an idea, but no, it simply won’t work if you don’t have your own concept, own design and own imagery. How are customers supposed to be able to tell whether they are visiting “Mayer’s Online Print” at that particular moment, if the store is a bad copy of another store? How can the store function as a “customer retention tool” if customers can’t even recall the store’s design? People should give this some thought prior to any re-design and also consider how they want to showcase an independent store on the Internet. Therefore it is vital that online store operators get their conceptual thinking caps on to address the issues of usability, the customer journey, the user experience and the subsequent customer experience.

The reason for doing this can be attributed above all to the expectations of digital users, who have been indulged by the major online players like Google, Facebook et al and come to expect “digital convenience” as standard. And that means nothing other than that print providers’ online stores have to meet modern requirements. So plagiarizing Flyeralarm et al is not going to help very much, because even the online print big boys still have to do their homework in this respect – original, creative and target-audience-focused concepts are what’s called for. Only then will sales increases be achieved.

Founder and CEO of zipcon consulting GmbH, one of the leading consulting companies for the print and media industry in Central Europe. The technology and strategy consultant and his team actively support practical implementation in a wide variety of customer projects. His work involves developing visions, concepts and strategies for the players active in the print production process across a wide range of industries. His areas of expertise include online print, mass customization, strategy and technological assessment for print, and the development of new strategies in the print and media environment. Bernd Zipper is the creator and chairman of Initiative Online Print e.V. and, in addition to his consulting activities, is an author, lecturer and sought-after speaker, orator and moderator. His visionary lectures are regarded worldwide as trend-setting management recommendations for the print and media industry. (Profiles also in Xing, LinkedIn).

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