Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Compare and contrast: L’Occitane

A cataloguer/retailer of toiletries, L’Occitane has branched out far beyond its origins in the Provence region of France. Today it has commerce-enabled sites for 19 countries, including Colombia, Israel, Russia, and Slovakia. Among its English-language sites are those specific to the UK, the US, and Australia.

The home pages of the various L’Occitane websites use a similar architecture: hero photo/offer taking up two-thirds of the first screen, with a right-hand column of two stacked offers making up the final third. The offers differed among the Australian, UK, and US sites. On the Australian site (above), the main box was a rotating selection of best-sellers that were on sale; the right-hand column reminded visitors that this was the last week to receive a $10 gift voucher with every online order and promoted the Christmas catalogue. (The Aussie home page also featured some lovely tinkling music to put you in a Christmassy mindset.)

The UK home page (right) also rotated the images of its hero offer, Festive Limited Editions, as well as of the Limited Edition Collections highlighted on the top of the right-hand column. The second item on the right-hand column was a link to the site’s Christmas Gift Boutique, with product categories consisting of Festive Limited Editions, Irresistible Special Value Gifts, Petite Gifts Under £20, and Our Best Sellers. A third, smaller right-hand box linked to a page of "beauty secrets".

The Festive Limited Editions accounted for the hero spot of the US home page (below) as well. Beside the photos of the boxed sets was a prominent note that standard shipping was free with every Limited Edition. To the right was a link to the site’s page of Provencal holiday recipes and a promotion of a boxed set of goodies free with every purchase of at least $100. It’s not surprising that the Stateside site emphasises the free P&P: As Scott Silverman of US trade group Shop.org told USA Today, “Consumers [in America] feel it's their right to buy online without paying for shipping”. The US site reiterated the free shipping offer alongside the main navigation bar, which enabled you to shop by Product Type (such as fragrance, skincare, men, new, and best sellers) or by Ingredient (shea butter, verbena, almond, essential oils, and the like). The other two sites used the same mode of navigation, though the UK site labelled the tabs By Category and By Range.

Above the product navigation bar was an overall site nav bar, and additional navigation links ran along the bottom. These varied significantly among the three home pages. Unlike the Australian site, for instance, the US and UK sites offered free gift wrap and free samples with every order—the latter a great way of creating additional sales of what is a very sensual product. The US site, unlike the other two, did not include a catalogue request link. But it was the only one to include a blog and links to a Facebook page and a Twitter feed. Combined with the prominent placement of the link to the recipe page, these features indicate that the US team, more so than its UK and Australian counterparts, considers increasing customer engagement critical to encouraging brand loyalty and repeat business.

L’Occitane US was also more advanced when it came to gift cards. They were featured on the home page of the US site, and they can be redeemed online, via phone, or in-store. While Australian shoppers can buy gift vouchers online, they can be redeemed in-store only, not an ideal situation for a multichannel retailer. Even less ideal: The UK site didn’t sell gift vouchers at all.

All three sites offered a Best Seller product category. The products differed among the sites, which was reassuring; I’d suspect a fix if the favourite product Down Under was also the favourite in the States. (For the record, face creams seemed to be more popular with the Aussies, while Yanks favoured hand creams, and Brits loved the Immortelle skincare range.)

The product copy also varied somewhat among the sites. In Australia, the headline on the landing page for the Immortelle range emphasised its “skin-brightening” abilities, while the other two sites came right out and praised its “anti-ageing” qualities. But while the actual verbiage differed, the copy on all three pages used a similar blend of fanciful imagery and scientific-sounding claims. Can you guess which description is from which site?

A. “Immortelle is a wild and mysterious flower from Corsica, which yields a miraculous essential oil - a precious elixir of youth. Immortelle anti-aging skin care reduces signs of aging by multiplying collagen production, improving microcirculation and fighting against free radicals.”

B. “Immortelle is also known as the everlasting flower, because the papery flowers retain their form and color when dried. We have extracted a precious essential oil from the plant, which has anti-free radical and anti-wrinkle properties. The Immortelle collection offers anti-aging products for the face and body.”

C. “On the Mediterranean island of Corsica there lives a flower that never withers – Immortelle. Thousands of flowers are slowly distilled to extract the plants essential oil. L’OCCITANE has harnessed the power of the Immortelle essential oil to create an anti-ageing range that helps to stimulate micro-circulation, increase collagen synthesis and protect against cell ageing.”

If you guessed A for US, B for UK, and C for Australia, give yourself a pat on the back. Oddly the UK description used American spellings (“color”, “anti-aging”). I’m not sure whether we can draw any useful conclusions from this, however, especially as on other pages the product copy was all but identical from site to site.

The product ranges themselves varied to some degree among the sites. It would seem that orange is not a popular scent in Australia, as L’Occitane did not sell its Ruban d’Orange range on its site there, though the UK site did. The range was available in the States as well, though in the product copy it was referred to simply as Orange, not by its French name nor the English translation (“Orange Ribbon”).

On the actual product pages, the descriptions were similar, if not identical, from site to site. Other similarities on the product pages: the breadcrumb trail as a navigational aid, the ability to enlarge the product image, a “send to a friend” facility, links to products “Customers Also Liked”. The US product pages offered the most additional features: links to recently viewed items and related products, an Advice tab (which often recommended ancillary products—very savvy), “Testimonials” (which I’d suggest renaming “Customer Reviews”; as it stands, one might assume that only positive comments are solicited or that negative remarks are censored). The UK product pages included the same features, except for the related products. The Australian site, however, did not include customer reviews or recently viewed items.

All told, L’Occitane does an admirable job of maintaining brand consistency across borders while allowing its local teams enough autonomy to tailor the details of their websites to the individual markets (American spellings on the UK site notwithstanding). If only L’Occitane could figure out a way to replicate the scent of one of its boutiques as soon as you log on to any of the sites.--SC

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