With on-site laundry facilities and gyms, Google Inc. has earned a reputation as one of the more employee-friendly companies in American business, so vice president Marissa Mayer is often asked what her favorite perk is.
“It’s actually the fact that you can ship and receive from the office,” admitted the 35-year-old search guru and confessed shopaholic. (When asked during her Q&A, she allowed that she was wearing Oscar de la Renta.) Mayer established her Internet consumer bona fides in support of a light-handed critique of the way most fashion brands design their Web sites. She called out bad habits such as an overreliance on Adobe’s Flash animation software, which is hard for Google’s search team to index and can add to load times, as well as tough-to-navigate page setups.
“Of course the fashion world loves Flash,” Mayer said of the program, which is often used to display runway shows and elaborate page introductions. “We try to do the best we can with Flash, but Flash is probably overused in the fashion retail world.”
Mayer moved on to overly paginated search results, another presentational pitfall.
“I almost always go to this page and click ‘view all,’ ” she said, displaying a Web page showing about 30 products. “Because the truth is, there’s only about 100 items, and people can scan them and scan them quickly.…Why not just get rid of pagination on these sites entirely?”
Another tip she provided was to make sure a company’s Web site offers the ability to ship and bill to different addresses, since many consumers — such as herself —have purchases shipped to offices and not their homes.
Mayer provided a few areas Google has focused on in recent years from which the fashion world might take its cues, beginning with speed. The company recently rolled out its Instant Search function, which allows users to see search results in real time as they type and is shaping customer-service expectations.
“This kind of instantaneous interaction with users is causing people to expect instantaneous turnaround,” Mayer said. “Speed really matters.”
Another Google focal point has been personalization. By introducing custom skins in Gmail and iGoogle, the company has allowed users to apply its products however they’d like.
“Platforms are really rising up and letting people personalize the things they love,” Mayer said, pointing to Gucci-, Diane von Furstenberg- and Tory Burch-branded themes on iGoogle. To illustrate the point further, she showed an industrial design mash-up she had seen at a recent design forum of an Eames lounge chair reimagined as a high chair.
“How do you take a mass-produced object and personalize it?” she asked, before citing cases such as indiDenim and NikeiD. “We’re seeing more examples of this in retail.”
Taking the idea of personalization a step or two further, Mayer said that Google is always on the lookout for “hacks” — which she described as “taking something and using it in an unexpected way” — such as Lady Gaga’s now infamous meat dress.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for a Google executive, especially one who has served as head of search products and user experience, Mayer’s overall pitch was for companies to think about their customer data in a different light.
“In a lot of businesses…data really describes what’s happening,” Mayer said. “At Google, data really decides what we do next.”