Note about review --- This review is the sole opinion of an E-Commerce geek who’s been in the business since 1998. The author is not affiliated with nor conducts business with the shops reviewed here. If this review is exposed to the elements or your boss, then you risk bodily harm and or physical injury due to your manager breaking your bones with excitement after your conversion rate increases 3X or new visitors grow by 100%. Please take this review seriously and do not attempt recreating the recommendations listed in this review unless you are a professional or have professional guidance.
E-Commerce Website Review For
Number of pages in Google Index
Navigation on Republic Bike is as simple as it gets. Top-level navigation is organized in a unique way. Instead of just listing About / Faqs / Gallery / 3D Bike Shop / Press / Corporate & Retail / Cart as tabs, Republic Bike uses colors and imagery from the logo to draw the user's eye to different areas of the top-level navigation.
I get the funny feeling that whoever designed the navigation wanted me to click on 3D Bike Shop, Corporate & Retail, and the Cart. It's a great example of using color or re-using similar colors to draw the eye to the important areas of the site. Red is powerful color. Check all major retailers, and the price is red. That's no accident. It's a proven design metaphor that's simple and just works.
I'm guessing the 3D Bike Shop, Corporate and Retail, and the Cart features are the major performers for Republic Bike, too. Ironically, while I was preparing this report, Republic Bike actually changed their main navigation header. I was confused at first, but then realized they pushed changes to the site as I was evaluating it. How cool is that? Iterate baby! It's scary to make top-level navigation changes. Traffic could tumble. Congratulations on having the courage to make the change. Let's analyze the subtle differences. Here's the new top-level navigation.
It's clear now the Custom Bike Shop area of the top-level navigation is the main emphasis. Look at the box around it. In the top-right corner, they added social proof in the form of Facebook followers. Well done Republic Bike. Would love to know if the amount of visitors who converted increased after this change was made. Also included in the change, after a user mouses-over the Customer Bike Shop, a drop-down sub-navigation menu which shows illustrations of the bike so I can choose a bike for my needs quickly, the first time. Again, nice job Republic Bike.
If you notice in the top-left, right below the logo, there's the 3D Bike Shop terminology again. Maybe a little testing is going on. Which link drives more customers to the "bike builder" page? Do tell Republic Bike. Inquiring minds would like to know.
Before I go on to the Custom Bike Shop, I traveled around the site and found the press page. If I would have designed the page, it would have been boring, tabular format and would probably have a huge bounce rate. Whoever designed Republic Bike's press page needs to be congratulated! All I can say is WOW! I wanted to keep scrolling down the page because the format was broken-up and kept me on the edge of my seat. Here's a sample. Text, magazine cover, video, etc. The media on the page felt like a bunch of magazine clippings strewn about a coffee table. For a brief moment, I forgot I was online, in a browser, touring a website.
At the top of the Press page is a major press release disguised as an advertisement. Republic Bike outfitted Google with a fleet of crazy-colored bikes so Googlers can get around the sprawling Google Mountain View campus while burning a few calories. Here are the two Google ads (PR) Republic Bike Shows.
One thing is certain. Republic Bike is not like every other E-Commerce retailer. They threw out the conventional and did it their way. Not every shop online has ingenious press release content disguised as ads or includes a user-submitted photo gallery page for example. Typically, a user would click on category navigation, then select a category, get faceted navigation, a product grid with quick views, and product page links all over. Not on RepublicBike.com. It's a visual experience like no other. That was refreshing to me. Here's a sample category page.
I really don't care the black and white bike, first row second one from the left, has a funny wheel or got cropped by an intern. I love looking at the imagery.
Below the impressive visuals of all the different bikes, is photo collage of customer submitted photos. Again, this could have been "just another gallery," but the layout is fun and playful. See for yourself. Feels like photos on a coffee table.
I found the product page for the Plato Step Thru bike. See below. Republic Bike does not let you get too far from the notion of customizing your bike. You can even create a random bike or select from popular builds. Nice touch. As I sit on the page and read the content, my eye is focused on the shifting frame, chain case, grip, saddle, tires, skirt, bell, and housing colors, sizes, and shapes that are constantly rotating independently of each other. There was a lot of painstaking graphic design work to make this page "come to life." I'm impressed by their efforts even though I'm a bit dizzy from how fast the content is rotating. Could you slow it down a bit.
Right below the customization section on the page, is a banner which I would call the conversion maximizer. If you sell a product, and it's made in the USA, why not list that in BIG BOLD LETTERS on your product pages? Republic Bike thumbs its nose to the norm again by using design elements from the logo and colors to decorate the fact Republic Bikes are "Assembled In The USA." Where are the parts made Republic Bike - China? At this point - I don't care. I see USA and want to buy. Republic Bike sets an expectation with customers how long it will take to get one of these bikes. 7 business days for the Plato Step-Thru. But because that is listed in the Made-In-USA section - I don't care. All I see is America! Win!
Directly below the "Assembled In The USA" section, includes all the bike details. Very small font and technical specs are also listed here. Again, the number of days to create this bike is clearly listed with the price - in black not red. Since red and black are the only colors Republic Bike uses, using red for the price might not be the best option. So instead, they choose to increase the font and make the price the dominate item on the page. Nice work.
I love assisted navigation. Ever heard of it? I think it's the wave of the future. In fact, here on CPC Strategy and here on Quora, it was mentioned in the context of UX Design as the future of E-Commerce. Think of assisted navigation as a personal butler who assists with every unique customer in a personal way. Yoyo’s Toy Finder, Target’s Gift Finder, and the JustBats Bat Coach are examples of pages setup to assist the customer in navigating to products they have a higher probability of purchasing. It’s not new, but very effective and there needs to be more of this. In fact, Republic Bike was selected by me because of the Custom Bike Shop tool they've built. I've already made some comments about the speed of the content rotation when customizing a bike, but I'll dig-in more and start with a blank slate then share my experience. Hold on for the ride folks.
I navigate to the Republic Bike Aristotle and begin the customization process. This is what I see.
I could click the boxes next to each option to see which colors and options exists, but that's boring. I'd rather click on the bike image itself. To my surprise, clicking on the frame worked. It also brings up the color options in a semi-transparent context menu with name and color swatch. Very cool Republic Bike. See below.
And after a few minutes of tweaking, here's my super-duper awesome bike!
After I add the customer Republic Bike Aristotle to my cart, I'm presented with a standard shopping cart page, but again Republic Bike finds a way to do it their way. This time I was not as excited about the uniqueness. Sometimes, using non-standard design metaphors is confusing and required thinking. There are red buttons and black buttons. Some of them do the same thing, some are unique. It does not feel like there's any rhyme or reason for varying the black and red buttons. Take a look for yourself.
Where's the image of my super-duper awesome bike in the cart? Want to see it again, but it's not here.
What I like about the cart is the shipment date is estimated. I wish the shipping cost, $59.00, was listed somewhere else on the site so I was not so surprised by the cost. I know shipping a big bicycle might be expensive, but I didn't expect it to cost $59. Call me cheap. It's quite possible it was there and I just missed it, too. There are some other items being up-sold on the cart, but this could be made easier for the customer in my opinion. For example, I would like to add an accessory to the cart without going to the product page for the accessory and adding it. Change the up-selling section from this.
To this instead. Simple and easy for the customer.
When I head over the the checkout page, I'm presented with the most normal-looking page ever found on RepublicBike. At the top of the page, is the breadcrumb trail for checkout which shows me three steps. Very nice, normal, checkout metaphor.
I would like to pay with PayPal but cannot. That would be a cool option to have. The last thing I would like to point out about Republic Bike is My Republic. See below.
Republic Bike is turning its customers into a marketing team. Look at all this user-generated content Republic is getting just by asking for it. I would like to see these photos on the product page in the form of "action shots" or some way I can see customer using the product. The gallery is cool but I think the images would be powerful conversion agents for the product page.
First thing I noticed as I looked for the social links on the site is that they were missing. Then, I realized I was on secure.republicbike.com still looking at my shopping cart from the previous steps. Once I clicked the logo and was taken back to RepublicBike.com, and scrolled down, I saw the social links. These were share links, which required login. On the gallery page, there are links to Republic Bike's social properties which don't require login. WooHoo. I found them. I would make the footer on secure.republicbike.com the same as the footer on republicbike.com. When I click on the social icons, I was not taken to their Facebook or Twitter accounts, but was asked to login to those services and share from RepublicBike.com. Not bad, but not really my use case of choice.
Here's the Facebook page. Only a few posts in April 2014. Lots of followers, but not a lot of activity here. Daily posting would classify as normal activity.
Twitter account exists, but not very active with tweets. The last tweet was 36 days ago.
Love the fact the phone number is present in the header on every page. Republic Bike is not hiding from anyone. Love the "Built by us and You" tagline they feature on the site. Gives me the feeling of being involved with a greater deed when I buy a Republic Bike. Finally, to tie it up and put a bow on it. Do you notice the common design elements from the logo used here. Well done! Way to create a great brand experience that builds my curb-appeal-confidence. Feeling like I'm going to have a good experience if I order.
Under The Hood
On page SEO is better than average. Republic Bike has boilerplate titles. Here's one for example. Republic Bike | About | track bikes, fixed gear bicycles, fixies, Dutch bikes | built by us and you. I would simply change it to About Republic Bike Company. The blog is located in two places. blog.republicbike.com and republicbike.com/blog. I would go with the latter of the two. That way all your SEO eggs are in one domain basket. Using sub-domains spreads the Google Juice instead of stacking it all under your .com.
Want to learn about what RepublicBike.com is running on their site? Check out their BuiltWith details. In the last few months, Republic Bike has removed AppNexus, Google Adsense, DoubleClick.net, and the Facebook Exchange FBX. I can only guess these mechanisms were not working for them.
- When checking the build status of a bike, why not drop the captcha and use information only the customer would know like the combination of order number and billing zip code.
- Add PayPal to increase conversions.
- Add Chat so customers can communicate their way.
- Improve page load speeds. Use Google insights page load speed tool to validate.
- Keep in touch info from the gallery page should be on the footer page of every page.
- Since Republic Bike uses AdWords, why not also turn on Google Trusted Stores. With that, Republic Bike's customers will get questionnaires that Google facilitates and captures, processes, and displays the results next to your ads. Having stars and reviews improves CTR.
- Update Up-sell widget on cart page that can up-sell in-place.
- Show image of custom bike in cart for extra awesomeness.
- Add gallery images to product pages as "action shots."
E-Commerce Ideas Provided By RepublicBike.com For All To Steal
- No fear! Taking a creative vision (online bike builder) and making it a webpage requires boatloads of trial and error. Don't be afraid to try.
- KISS - Keep it simple stupid. Some sites have color schemes and graphics that complicate tasks.
- Show passion for your work. The pages on RepublicBike.com demonstrate, to me, a passionate company centered around creating a great product and delivering a unique customer buying experience. Don't quit.
- Ask your users for content. Images, text, whatever they will give. Future customers love it.