Branding: The Integrated Shopper
Next I went to Coldwater Creek's e-commerce site to see if the experience was similar. It was. I was greeted on the homepage by the same smiling model, once again holding flowers. There were blocks of the same pastel colors found in the catalog, along with the same font treatments, making for a very consistent presentation. The homepage was visually well done. However, the only messages that greeted me were promotions: "All jewelry 30% off," "$30 off your order of $150 or more," "All jackets and coats 30% off" and "Free Shipping." Since the first impression I got when I arrived at Coldwater Creek's homepage was "discount, discount, discount!," guess what impression I have of the brand?
That afternoon I took a trip to Coldwater Creek's local store with my wife in tow (yes, I made her come along as a decoy). I wondered what impression the brand would have on me when I saw it live and in person. The second we walked into the store we were greeted by a very friendly 60-plus-year-old woman who couldn't wait to tell us about the store's promotions. She immediately steered us to the sale section. The store felt like the catalog had come to life. There were large posters of the same happy models holding flowers, as well as graphics everywhere of the same pastel colors (with more flowers).
The shopping experience from Coldwater Creek's spring catalog to its website to one of its retail stores was completely seamless. Clean, well organized, polished. One channel fed right into the other perfectly. As we left the store holding our bag of clearance items, however, I had an empty feeling. I still didn't know what the brand was all about. Coldwater Creek never once told me what it stood for or what made it special other than perhaps discounted items and flowers. Despite the tight integration across all channels, the lack of a strong brand story earns it a B+.
Chico's catalog makes it very clear what the brand stands for: bold style. On the cover the brand's signature model (who appears in all its marketing efforts) is shown next toChico's "style expert" Sher Canada. The large-print headline across the cover reads "Style Secrets!" As you work your way through the book, page after page of large headlines and quotes from style expert Canada emphasize that Chico's is there to help consumers create and show off their personal style. The design and layout of the pages resemble a fashion magazine, with clean white backgrounds, trendy typography, tips on how to wear its clothing, color trends, dos and don'ts, and an emphasis on your entire wardrobe.
This is more than a catalog; it's a guidebook to style. Chico's clearly understands that today's catalog must be more than just a transactional tool. It has to work much harder than that. It has to be a window into the brand. If your catalog is still simply a presentation of products — i.e., a way to buy stuff — you've got some work to do.
How well does Chico's translate that style story to the web? Quite well, actually. The retailer's homepage is a perfect reflection of its catalog. It feels like a fashion site. The typography treatments are hip, the backgrounds are clean and don't compete with the merchandise, and the models look fun and engaging. There's an editorial sensibility about it. You can even get live help from a Chico's stylist right on the homepage. Chico's did miss an opportunity on its site to integrate the tips, fashion advice and trend watching that was present in its catalog, however. Doing so would have further supported its brand positioning as style experts.
The brick-and-mortar shopping experience is where Chico's lost me. Walking into one of its stores was like walking into a chaotic bazaar. There were racks and racks of clothes not organized in any particular way. It was a jumbled mess with no focus, and it didn't resemble Chico's catalog or website at all. Where was the hip fashion aesthetic? How about the style experts? Not to mention the tips and advice on how to put together an entire wardrobe? A huge missed opportunity and a huge disconnect from an otherwise great experience with a bold and unique brand. Chico's, you had me at hello, then lost me at your front door. What could have been a solid A is now a C+. Unfortunate.