You can check out part one of this series here. This is a series about how I’d improve my favorite websites.
Party City is a multichannel retailer that sells party goods. They have a brick and mortar and an ecommerce presence. I’ll be talking about their website. Again, standard disclaimer-this writeup probably sounds more negative than positive. This isn’t a SWOT analysis, it is the “how I’d improve my favorite stores” series. Also, all comments are based on desktop, because, well, this analysis has to end sometime.
The Creative and Site Merchandising
I think the biggest challenge for “party sites” like Party City is to find the right balance between conveying ‘fun’ while still maintaining solid design practices. For example, does anyone ever want to party this hard?:
There is a physical limit to how much information I (or anyone) can process when I look at an image. I think Party City is pushing the boundaries towards “too much fun”. (Though I am a boring person)
Obviously this isn’t a technical website problem, but my stance is if I see it or it affects my web sales it is a web problem. I might want to discuss what works on the web and what doesn’t with the creative team. Is it possible I am wrong- that the extremely busy look is just what the party crown wants? Maybe. The biggest issue here is that there is a 50% off offer that I did not notice until just now, after looking at it for the 20th time. See it there?
On the whole, the physical merchandising displays too are very busy. I understand that this is the style for this type of store but I wonder if we are still going overboard. We don’t need to show every item in a collection on the homepage. We can tease it by showing a few items and getting the customer to click through to see more. Remember, people can only buy by adding things to the cart, so lets try to move them that way.
To sum up, more blank space in all online creatives.
If we take a look at the homepage of any business, what do I want the customer to see? First, I want a customer to quickly know what we sell. I get that they sell party supplies. Good. Can you tell that Party City sells costumes? It seems kind of hidden there. It is not apparent to me that every party supply store would sell costumes, so we either have to point that out or create a new web business for those alone. (Or both). It is possible that this is a new throw-away category that they are testing out. But if not, I think we need to highlight it better. (more on this later)
What are some types of parties I might have? A birthday party, an anniversary party…okay so “Occasion” should be a category in some way. They have a “special occasions” section, but birthdays are not under that section. I think birthday is a really big occasion. So they tried to make it its own category. Your primary nav is not the place to do this. Your primary nav must be functional by categories. It appears that they may have separated things out how they do in the physical store (I am guessing).
Continuing on, theme is another way I might want to look for supplies. Gender might be another. Or gender can be an attribute we use to sort once they get to the category page. (Or is gender a theme?)
So I think we could narrow down the nav to “Search by Occasion”, “Search by Theme”, Costumes & Supplies. Once they click on search by occasion, then I’d show them all the options like birthdays and weddings. I just discovered they sell candy too. That should be one of the top tabs. One tab should be “candy”. One could argue that it is a party supply and put it under there, but that is not what we want. When people arrive on the homepage we want them to know we sell candy-it is a pretty big category. Thus it belongs in the top nav.
Party Supplies, Costumes, Candy are the three primary categories I would go with as well as two supplemental “search by occasion” and “search by theme”..and maybe sales. See? It is tough to keep the number of categories low. Each of these would have many subcategories.
It is easy to miss what is happening here. Maybe that means whatever party city is doing it working?! First I want to draw a quick distinction. I call the category page the (usually) dynamic page that lists your products. It is sortable and filterable. You should recognize it. Here is Zappos‘:
This is different than what I call a “category landing page”. These are not sortable and usually maintained similar to how you manage your homepage. You’ll recognize it. (Some companies call them the “category page” and the “subcategory page” respectively. I don’t think there is universal agreement on this point. Whatever.) Here is REI.com:
Some companies ignore the category landing page- usually smaller companies due to time constraints- but I have never seen a company not use a category page. Party City does sometimes. For some of their party supplies they use solely a category landing page categorization while for their costumes they use a traditional category page.
Is this a next-level marketing technique? Probably not. While I do think that the traditional category page will continue to evolve, I am not certain this is the best choice. It was probably made because they believe their items are not easily categorizable (I am guessing). But everything is categorizable. For example, I may want to search to see what Hershey’s Candy they sell, or what red licorice they have. You can’t make a category for everything. That is what the traditional, sort-able category page is good for.
Using the Site: UI/UX
Say I want to look at all their balloons:
I click under party supplies>balloons and arrive at a category landing page above. So far so good. I don’t see an option for all balloons (that’s fine…some companies do that) so I’ll click on the first link because I just want to get to some balloons. So I click on girls birthday balloons:
Hmm…another landing page. Okay, not my favorite way to go but some of the companies I admire most seem to put you in an endless maze of landing pages sometimes (zappos, victorias secret) so Ill go with it. I’ll click on the Frozen Balloons banner because I want to buy some balloons:
Hmm…another landing page. One more time? I’ll click on those cute purple balloons:
The Product Page
Not what I was expecting, but I have seen companies I admire use this quick view default as their product page setup (lane Bryant did this at one time though you had to add to cart from a traditional category page, if I remember correctly). Usually this “quick view” option is not the default on desktop computers. I would only use this after a lot of testing. Even if it converted better I’d still tell my analysts to run the tests again just to be sure.
So, I think the big problem is the categorization. People can’t buy if they can’t get to the product page. Also, we want to reduce the number of categories in the top nav so that we can quickly communicate to the viewer that we sell candy and costumes.
Usually we want to reduce the amount of steps to get to the cart. We also want to utilize the category page more often than the category landing page. I’d default to the traditional product page, but I could be convinced otherwise. I would also explore toning down the creative but we could hammer this out in an A/B testing environment since I am least certain about this conclusion and it can be easily tested. Perhaps a happy medium could be reached.
To comment contact me at eric(dot)zwickler(at)gmail(dotcom)