An antidote to boring e-commerce

Visit the website of the clothing retailer Entireworld, and you might think your browser is broken. A patchwork of square images hovers in space over a mostly white background. Pictures scroll on top of a sparse navigation pane set awkwardly to the side. New-age music reminiscent of whale songs plays in the background.

It’s disconcerting, a little weird, and entirely intentional. The look is an example of “brutalist design,” a descendant of a post-war architectural style that emphasizes raw materials, geometric shapes, and a bare-bones color palette. It’s part of a trend to shake up web marketing that just might be the rejuvenation of conventional retailing.

Neck-snapping website designs like these are a response to what Phillip Jackson calls the “Shopify Effect.” Jackson, who is senior vice president of commerce solutions at customer experience agency Rightpoint, explains that while Shopify has democratized e-commerce by making it easy for anyone to set up a retail website, it has also had the unintentional side effect of homogenizing the web.

“Every single e-commerce site looks the same,” he says. The result is: “It’s cheaper than ever to make a site, but costlier than ever to find a customer.”

He has a point. Take a look at any B2B tech company website and you’ll see the same basic experience: big photo up top, a few bullet point sentences with “learn more” links, a video or two, and an assortment of logos or blog post titles. And the ubiquitous “hamburger” menu often sits off to the left.

Blame this pervasive sameness on Apple and Google. The former invented the modern smartphone which now accounts for more than 50% of overall web traffic. The latter made mobile-friendliness an important factor in search results. The result has been responsive design, an approach to website construction that sacrifices visual variety for device compatibility.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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