Content might be sexy but retailers need to strike the right balance between fun and functional

EBay this week unveiled its new ‘magazine-style’ homepage to the UK at a celebrity-fuelled event in London. It follows Marks & Spencer as the latest ecommerce website to refocus around content, hoping that by inspiring customers it can boost engagement and, in the long term, sales. But online retailers must make sure their main point of being, to sell stuff to customers, isn’t getting lost among the pretty pictures and editorial content. 


EBay’s redesign focuses on “Collections”, handpicked lists of items created by eBay editors, brands or users. Visitors can find, follow and share collections, as well as browse through listings.

It’s a fairly familiar concept. Last year, Amazon also launched a “Collections” service that lets users visualise their wish lists by sorting them into different categories. It’s also not too dissimilar to Pinterest, the social network with millions of users sharing pictures of products they’ve seen from across the web.

There’s no doubt this makes eBay much more engaging and interesting. The site was always great if you knew exactly what you wanted to buy, what the company dubs “mission shopping”, but fairly useless if you just fancied whiling away a few moments waiting for the bus browsing through products.

This new site is aimed at changing that and giving people a reason to come back every day, or at least more often.

Marks & Spencer’s revamp has the same bold aims. No longer just for buying, the redesign is focused around a central content hub called “Style & Living” that offers customers ideas on new trends and products,

There is no doubt that both websites are a big improvement if the aim is to increase engagement and entertain customers, not simply sell. They are focused on visuals, a curated and personalised experience and content that adds some life to products and makes it easier to browse through what’s on offer.

Of course being immersive and engaging is important. If people never visit a retailer’s website then obviously they aren’t going to buy from it so it needs to be interesting. More visits should mean more opportunities to convert.

However, retailers must make sure they are balancing this desire to entertain with the need to make sales.

Think back to the HMV website revamp last year, a prime example of putting content before the company’s main aim, to convince people to buy music and films. So difficult was it to find a way to buy that I eventually gave up and never went back.

By focusing on content, retailers are changing the reason people visit from buying to browsing. One is a lean forward action, the other a lean back.

If I come to a website looking to buy I’m actively in shopping mode and prepared to spend. If I come looking to be entertained I might browse through 10 collections spotting things I like but then just wonder off to another website, in search for the next place to fill my spare time.

Both eBay and M&S are quick to highlight that these new websites will be highly “shoppable”, with direct links to product pages and shopping baskets. But they need to make sure people are converting if this new marketing strategy focused on content is to pay off.

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