Introduction: ...


In this regular feature, Strategy Direct + Interactive asks an interactive marketing expert to give us their candid assessment of a Web site selected by us. This month, Kevin Steele, creative director in the Interactive Group at Toronto-based Vickers & Benson Direct + Interactive, gives us his opinion of the Web site.


Launched last fall, just a couple of weeks before the grand, post-bankruptcy reopening of seven Eatons department stores across Canada, the Web site was described by executives at Sears Canada – Eatons’ new owner – as an innovative and sophisticated attempt to give consumers an ‘exciting online shopping experience.’ Conceived in the wake of the demise of the family-owned department store chain in 1999, the new Web site offers customers a limited selection of items to buy from the new 100-page Eatons catalogue, which features apparel, jewelry and furniture. Although items can be ordered and paid for online, customers must go to an Eatons store or a Sears catalogue pick-up location to take possession of their purchases. The site promises that most items will be delivered to the pick-up location within two working days. The site also features an online gift registry and offers visitors the ability to apply online for an Eatons credit card.

Kevin Steele:

Creative Director, Interactive Group

Vickers & Benson + Interactive

From the main menu, it was immediately evident that is not intended to deliver a comprehensive online shopping experience, since shopping options allow customers to ‘browse’ products only, and there is no ‘search’ field.

The site’s main navigational tool is a side-scrolling menu of product photos, the speed and direction of which is controlled by where the cursor is placed. Clicking on the text pauses the scrolling and produces more product choices. Not surprisingly, the scrolling menu crawled on my machine at home, but was pretty responsive at the office, where we have a faster connection.

Unfortunately, whether I chose to browse products by ‘shop’, ‘brand’ or ‘item’, the menu that popped up was, at first glance, identical. After a bit of playing around, however, I learned that the menu behaviour does change according to the initial selection made.

Cumbersome features abound. For instance, before you view any product, you have to sit through an animated Flash intro, which makes it impossible to retrace one’s steps without using the browser’s ‘back’ button.

Looking at a picture of a leather jacket, I can rotate it, which is neat, but it still doesn’t come close to the tactile pleasure of touching or smelling it. Adding the jacket to my ‘shopping bag’, however, I find that the purchase and registration features are effortless and the writing is clear, with each step explained in plain English. They saved the best for last.

It’s ironic that the e-commerce features outshine the hard-to-use main navigation tool and the baffling assortment of Flash intros and ‘interactive demos.’

My guess is that is meant to be a high-end and fun-to-use site that keeps you thinking about Eatons, but was never meant to meet any real customer needs.