Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Then and now: Glasses Direct

Think back to 2008: The phrase credit crunch entered common parlance; we witnessed the collapse of Empire Stores, Woolworths, Zavvi, and countless others; and retailers had the worst Christmas since 1994. But what of those that weathered the storm—what difference have two years made? Let’s take a look at how a 2010 catalogue differs from a catalogue mailed two years previously. If you pardon the pun, I’ll focus on Glasses Direct.

I am comparing a January 2010 catalogue (above) with one mailed in Spring 2008 (below). Before I go any further, I must point out that Glasses Direct now appears to be producing monthly catalogues, which would explain why catalogue pagination is significantly down from 94 pages in 2008 to 68 pages this year as it moves from a seasonal mailing to a more frequent distribution. However, we should still see differences in design elements and the impact of new style trends.

Aside from the number of pages, an immediately noticeable change is the paper stock and binding. The 2008 catalogue is perfect bound, the pages are thick and the cover is made from card. The surface of both catalogues is silk, but the 2010 catalogue is saddle-stitched, with the cover of the 2010 edition about the same thickness as the main pages of the 2008 book. The rest of the 2010 catalogue is on thinner paper. This is probably a cost-cutting measure, especially if Glasses Direct is mailing more frequently.

Since 2008, Glasses Direct has undergone a logo change—from an eye and the company name in capital letters, to a lower case Glasses Direct (minus the .co.uk) and a logo shaped like three overlapping lenses. There is also a telephone number on the 2010 edition, a detail that is omitted from the cover of the 2008 edition. This has become best practice—prominently displaying a telephone number reassures customers that this is a “real company” and instils a degree of trust that should there be a problem, it can be solved by a human voice rather than a string of automated email replies.

Another thing missing from the 2008 cover is a special offer, something that is rectified on the front page of the 2010 catalogue. A special offer gives a catalogue “doormat appeal”, and presents the recipient with an additional reason to open the mailing. Discounts and sales are becoming increasingly popular on catalogue covers—our Catalogue Log statistics show that in January 2010 we received 8.1 percent more catalogues featuring a special discount or sale on the front cover than in January 2009. Further, less than a third of the catalogues we received in January 2010 made no mention of any special offers (free delivery or free gift, for example) on their covers.

Showing that it’s the little things that make a big difference, Glasses Direct instantly improves ease of shopping by displaying page numbers below the featured styles on the 2010 cover. Page numbers are absent from the 2008 cover, meaning that if any of the styles on the cover took your fancy, you’d be hard-pressed to find them without much flicking.

Moving inside the catalogue, Glasses Direct has made several improvements to the first spread. The 2008 edition devotes a whole page to founder Jamie Murray Wells’ letter. The letter reinforces Glasses Direct’s credentials, and further emphasises the company’s focus on customer service. The opposite page is a table of contents (above). Despite the letter’s friendly tone and informative message, the 2008 spread comes across rather bland. Fast-forward to 2010 and the pages have had a revamp (below). Gone are the letter and the page-long contents list. In their place are more details on the special offer, a shorter table of contents, logos of the designer ranges carried in the catalogue, and reasons to shop with Glasses Direct, as well as a quick guide explaining how to shop. The opening spread is more visually engaging, and manages to pack much more information into the space available without appearing cramped.

How to order information is reiterated on the order form of the 2010 catalogue. For some reason the 2008 edition includes three fold-out perforated order forms. Perhaps back then Glasses Direct expected more postal orders? The 2010 catalogue includes just one form in the centre presumably to pull out. Perforating the form was a nice touch, but the 2010 form wins by being better laid out. The 2010 form makes more of the optional extras (scratch resistance, anti-reflection) by categorising them into Budget, Bronze, Silver, and Gold packages—the good, better, best upselling concept. The 2008 form just seems to waste space on asking what colour case customers prefer. I also noticed that the 2010 form requires customers to send in their prescriptions, rather than allow customers to write it on the form. This could be for a number of reasons—possibly to stop users self-prescribing stronger lenses without a checkup? Or too many data input errors? There are no such restrictions on the Glasses Direct website—customers can order lenses online without proof of prescription, though they are required to agree to terms and conditions to confirm they are in possession of a valid written prescription.

The last four pages of the 2008 catalogue are devoted to answering frequently asked questions and outlining the terms and conditions. The 2010 catalogue dispenses with that information. This, again, could be due to the increased mailing frequency. It could also be that, like many companies that started out online, the catalogue is primarily a traffic driver to the website where all the information can be found.

What a difference two years make? In the case of Glasses Direct, a lot of subtle changes to improve the shopping experience. Just a simple change like stapling the catalogue instead of using glue improves usability (in that the catalogue stays open on the correct page as you look up the product number online). However, many of the images used are similar, the layout of the products is almost identical and the range is familiar yet expanded. As many a creative expert would tell you, sometime evolution is better than revolution.—MT

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