Thursday, June 15, 2006

Building a New Antiques Website

Today I spent time with a friend who is working on a website for her antiques shop. She's having a professional build the site, with her own design ideas, copy and photos. She will soon be promoting her upscale group shop world-wide on the Internet, so this is a big step in having a website presence which reflects the level of her shop's fine quality.

She's used her computer for other functions, but has not surfed much and has not seen a lot of other shops' sites. Today we spent a good amount of time wandering through dozens of other sites for ideas on color and design, as well as what she really liked and and really didn't like about websites. She now has about 6 pages of ideas for her site builder on what she wants for her own site. It was time well worth spending.

Many of the websites we surfed were quite well done, with good design and easy maneuverability. They were clear, simple to understand, and especially good for new-to-the-Internet shoppers.

However, we were both amazed at some websites - representing top notch dealers who carry some truly fine antiques - but who apparently gave very little thought to their Internet "doorway. "

One of the first problems noticed was the type font size used. Approximately 90% of the sites relied upon very small print for their information. Since the majority of antiques customers are in the 40 - 70 age group, small print causes eye strain and frustration as potential buyers struggle to read too-small type.

Even worse, several of the websites used color choices which made reading difficult. For example, one site used a medium gray background with black type. With minimal contrast between the two colors, it was extremely hard to read. Compound that with small print, and a buyer isn't going to waste a lot of time on that site - there's too many others to search.

Another problem was slow-loading photos. You could tell which sites had been done by people with little website experience - their photos took forever to load (and this was viewed on a dsl connection, so it really should have been fairly quick). One site had 5 photos, and took nearly 8 minutes to load. By then, we were bored waiting to see what that website had to offer, and headed to the kitchen for lunch.

Afterward lunch, we re-checked the site, viewed five poorly-aimed photos of an antiques mall's aisles and long distance shots of showcases with unidentifiable things in them. Hard to believe - the first photo's central figure was an aisle in their shop, with booths along the edges of the aisle. The perspective of the photo didn't include any specific antiques, and they were all jumbled together, booth after booth, with a shopper being unable to distinguish any particular booth or antique. But the aisle sure was neat and clean, and looked good . . .

One of the design details seen in several website was moving images - swaying banners announcing recent acquisition, a flapping-in-the-breeze graphic of the American flag, swans a-swimming, flashing little jagged edges balloons proclaiming NEW! We both thought that these kind of images were more distracting than helpful, and that they caused aggravation when navigating the website. We spent little time on those sites, just because of the annoying moving images.

Then there were the sites that had major boo-boos. One had blank boxes where photos were supposed to be. Another had incomplete sentences and missing information. A third was so busy in it's design, a viewer had a difficult time figuring out what actually was for sale - there were many photos of items laid out in a mosaic-styled large photo, and they all turned out to be previous sales - not a single one was available for purchase. A fourth site had several pages of copy about the antiques dealer himself, reflecting a whole lot more than the average person wanted to know about his personal life, his home, his philosophies, his previous employments (30 years worth!!), his family members, where he lived, ad nauseum. I was so sick of reading about him that I never got around to clicking on his merchandise pages!

My friend's afternoon of website research will pay off. By doing her homework, she is now full of good ideas to share with her designer, which will save her much design time and cost. Advance planning will make all the difference in her website, and soon she'll have a classy Internet site equal to her fine shop.

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