Kit and Ace's website.

When Engine Digital set out to do an e-commerce redesign on the Kit and Ace web site, the objective was to sell products.

But the team at Engine Digital also put into practice its mantra of being a “digital transformation agency” by elevating the retailer’s level of engagement with consumers. The result is a site that is not only operational and transactional, but also offers shoppers additional content and opportunities for “self discovery.”

Earlier this month, Kit and Ace president Wendy Bennison said the goal of the retailer over the next few years is to have 30 percent of its sales generated from e-commerce. WWD spoke with Engine Digital’s Stephen Beck, founder and chief executive officer; Richard Gallagher, founder and chief creative officer, and Dean Elissat, vice president of client engagement, about Kit and Ace’s redesign as well as some of the trends they are seeing in the market.

The company is based in Vancouver with an office in New York, and also counts Adidas, Lululemon Athletica and the NBA among its clients.

Regarding what differentiates the Kit and Ace site from others in the market, Gallagher said it centered on “moving past best practices,” which the firm believes holds “brands back from expressing a real representation of themselves online.”

“We threw out some of the conventions that make many e-commerce experiences uninspiring and overly focused on being transactional,” Gallagher said. “Of course, selling product online is the objective, but we believe brands have an opportunity to create deeper engagement that’s often lost in following the pack.”

He said the firm first defined guiding principles for the site to create “a design and interaction strategy that challenges convention.” This included creating a new way for users to scan for products via a “search-based navigation structure that provides visitors with more of a discovery approach to engagement.”

“The open web is based largely on search and discoverability,” Gallagher explained. “And search is a core part of most digital products. The Google search bar is completely ubiquitous at this point. We explored ways to use that same form of navigation to get users to product quickly and efficiently.”

Gallagher added that from a content perspective, the team was intentional in moving away from a transactional experience.

“Often, best practices say a distinct line should separate online merchandising and branded content,” Gallagher said. “Not only do we disagree with this, but we see incredible value in brands providing more of a blended approach to content and product, treating visitors as guests and not just customers. Kit and Ace does an incredible job of this offline through beautifully designed retail spaces. We wanted to emulate that ethos as much as possible online.”

Gallagher said the search-based navigation bar “also allows for better use of screen space, moving navigation items into a hover state that opens when activated by the user.”

“When the user begins typing ‘T-shirt, black,’ we display results instantly, providing a direct link into that product page,” he said. “We think it’s an intuitive system that, when applied to navigation creates a far more unique experience for users and will create a lasting impression.”

Under the hood, Gallagher said the design allows content (products and editorial) to be easily swapped out while also providing high functionality on a variety of user devices. Another feature on the site is a “Shop This Look” module, which “provides instant access to purchasing an entire coordinated outfit directly from the look book and editorial images throughout the platform.”

“In a seamless way, this brings shopping directly into the browsing experience without interrupting the user’s exploration, especially if purchasing is not their immediate priority,” Gallagher added.

In regards to emerging trends in the e-commerce space, Beck said there is a blending of content and commerce while personalization is taking on a more significant role.

“Brands are starting to recognize that all visitors aren’t there to shop, and there’s a need to drive other forms of engagement,” Beck said. “The cost of creating content has decreased, and the rise of social has created a space for brands to connect with their customers in a more meaningful way.”

The ceo also said that for more “digitally mature brands,” data is giving fuel to custom messaging all along a consumer’s shopping journey.

“For example, email programs tied into automation that continually engage customers post visit, or remarketing that makes ads more relevant across web and mobile,” Beck said. He also noted that increasingly, “digital-first fashion and apparel brands are moving offline, recognizing the need to connect with customers in the real world. This is leading to a greater need to bridge online and offline in ways that add value to the customer experience.”

And there are other changes afoot. Elissat noted the emergence of new business models such as Frank & Oak and Bonobos as well as Indochino.

“Be it subscription, or show rooming, or custom-made products, these brands are all focusing on innovation of the experience in additional to great product design,” Elissat said, adding that companies are also rolling out “labs” online, which includes ones such as that are designed to inform product strategies.

Elissat also noted the importance for having both an online and physical store presence.

“Brands need to go where consumers are,” Elissat said, adding that being online is a necessity. “But physical retail is clearly important too. Customers want to see the fabrics, the details, they want to try the fit and experience the brand in the real world. The physical space also gives a brand an opportunity to extend the story of why they are unique, what makes them special, how they fit into the world.
Digital can’t fully replace that.”

Gallagher said fashion retailers and brands can also take some cues from other sectors to strengthen their digital strategies. For example, in the hotel and resorts sector, placing the consumer in the “center of the decision-making process” is at the core of the online strategies for hospitality companies.

Meanwhile, in the luxury car sector, the focus is on storytelling, which is anchored by offering consumers the “whys” behind a product as well as the “what and how.” And in the start-up realm, Gallagher said fashion brands can learn how to be more empathetic.

“Empathize with the customer; learn what their pain points are in the shopping experience — big and small — and address them head on,” he said.

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