Thursday, 27 January 2011

Catalogue review: H&M

When fashion retailer H&M launched its transactional website back in September 2010, it was met with a negative reaction from many in the ecommerce fraternity. Bloggers were quick to admonish it for poor SEO, horrible navigation, and its error-prone online forms. So when the debut H&M print catalogue landed on my doormat this month—followed by another catalogue two weeks later—I endeavoured to share my thoughts about its efforts on paper. And I am happy to report, I was pleasantly surprised.

First impressions
The Spring Season 2011 catalogue is a 308-page, perfect-bound book; slightly wider but shorter than A4 in size. The paper stock for the cover is a thin silk card, while the pages within the catalogue are thin paper. A paragraph on page 302 confirms that the paper used was awarded the EU Ecolabel accreditation, which shows H&M has an eye on environmental concerns.

The image on the front cover is of a blonde model with rather striking green eyes. The H&M logo is prominent at the top left of the page, whilst the orderline and web URL is at the bottom. I would have liked to see more product on the front cover, something that the identically titled follow-up catalogue (below) did do. The 36-page catalogue that arrived in the last week of January features a shot of a model wearing a pink dress on its cover. I’m fairly certain that everyone receiving an H&M catalogue will be familiar with the product range, but it’s great to see some of it on the front page. The blonde model could easily have been selling hair care or beauty products. While we’re on the topic of the 36-page catalogue, I feel it should have been given a different title—“spring season selections” perhaps? Surely a different edition name should also help on the content-management side of things. (Oh, and is it just me, or do you see something wrong with that photo, seems like contender for the Photoshop Disasters blog)

I would have liked to see a call to action on the cover or even a tag line. Looking through the catalogue, there are no “new customer” discounts, or save “15% if you order before”, there are no free shipping offers either. Clearly H&M believes its low prices already speak for themselves.

H&M gets a big tick for featuring a letter from its head designer on page 3. Ann-Sofie Johansson provides some useful tips on this season’s style, as well as calling out H&M’s green credentials—she points out that by 2020 all the cotton used by H&M will be from recycled sources. The next two pages are dedicated to a table of contents. The list is easy to follow and logical. Another big tick for H&M.

Moving inside
This may not sound like me, but there wasn’t much to criticise looking at H&M’s product spreads. Most spreads include photos of the models wearing the garments and smaller product shots showing the different colourways or matching accessories. There are also “get the look” stopper pages with guides on putting together complete outfits, as well as accessories-only pages. Each spread seems to have at least six different items on display, but the pages never look crammed or crowded. Each garment is labelled with a letter correspoding to the product copy, making finding information about a particular item a stress-free task. The photography and models are faultless too—plenty of smiling faces and interesting poses.

Overall, I felt the catalogue has more in common with a La Redoute or Blue Tomato catalogue than it does with Very or Next; there’s a definite European edge to the catalogue design that makes it stand out from its UK competitors. Even just little things, like the way the price is displayed (without a £ sign; one instance of it written 14,99 instead of 14.99).

H&M’s European heritage is also evident in the order form and the payment methods accepted. As well as by credit or debit card, H&M allows customers to pay by monthly instalments, a monthly invoice or via a “payment slip in parcel”, a method whereby the shopper receives the item and pays an invoice delivered with the parcel within 10 days or receipt, a practice that is much more common on the Continent than it is in the UK.

The copy varies from the fairly descriptive: “Trousers that are loose-fitting at the top with tapered legs and side pockets. Back pockets with a button. Crotch height from 9.5” / 24.5 cm, and inside leg 32.25” / 82 cm in size 14. 98% cotton 2% elastane”—“Trousers”, page 107. To the functional: “T-shirt with a print on the front. Length 29”/ 74 cm in size L. 100% cotton”—“T-shirt”, page 193. Mostly, I think the length of copy is fine, as the images are clear and most product questions are answered by seeing the product on the model. One minor gripe about the copy though, it’s in 6pt type and rather faint. For future editions, it would definitely be an improvement if the type was made just slightly larger.

The catalogue easily stands up to repeated browsing. The customer can have a quick flick to a specific section, or spend hours poring over the pages making a mental note of all the outfits she’d like to buy. H&M may be new to the UK catalogue scene, but as its debut edition proves, it’s spent time and money on getting it right.--MT

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