The Get Elastic blog had an interesting post last week on American Eagle’s (http://www.ae.com) incorporation of product merchandising elements within the drop down layer of its product catalog navigation (http://www.getelastic.com/merchandising-in-navigation). As the Elastic Path folks point out, it’s an effective technique for surfacing more product content without a click or a separate page view. It also obscures a lot of content and can impair overall site usability.
The technique inspired a lot of discussion at Fluid. Our typically crotchety CTO had this to say:
“I find it mildly interesting, but more of a distraction than a benefit. When I use navigation, I typically know where I want to go or quickly want to scan the options. It’s like going into a Macy’s and seeing a big ad for something random on the floor index when I’m looking for shoes. Really? Do you really need to distract me there as well? Maybe I’ll forget about buying the shoes altogether…”
While our Director of Information Design countered with his own take on balancing the needs of the retailer with those of the audience:
“I think that American Eagle’s implementation could be improved, and I agree that the size of the banner distracts, but I also think there is great value in merchandising like this. It’s definitely possible to do something less obtrusive and more integrated – a more natural extension of the navigation rather than an additional banner tacked on. There is a definite business potential here for popular online retailers who can get manufacturers to pay for placement like this, with the benefit of getting their product and brand recommendations in front of more eyes. Taking it one step further the retailers, in turn, could use this incremental revenue to keep shipping costs low or free.”
And finally, from a member of the design team:
“I agree that this is really interesting from a merchandising point of view but the UI is super busy and visually just taxing. It would be interesting to know if people are actually clicking through on any of these and how it’s effecting their overall site conversion rate.”
Personally, I agree – the UI is busy and ultimately distracting. But I am also not the target consumer. That would be teenage boys and girls, for whom I suspect visual clutter and informational density is a plus. Not to mention the “Hey, I wasn’t expecting that! Cool!” factor.