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If you've ever been to the picturesque village of Woodstock you may well have come across that very interesting shop 'One Village' on the main street. Having enjoyed browsing (and buying!) in One Village on a couple of occasions it was interesting to take a look at their new online shopping website. Overall I thought it was a slightly unusual but actually very good shopping site which has been rather cleverly set out.
One Village has been around for a long time now quietly thriving while other outlets come and go and the products very much fit into a 'lifestyle' concept. The main focus of the product range is on household furnishings - throws, quilt covers, cushions, rugs and floor coverings, light shades, pottery and wood table and kitchenware and so forth. Then there are items to create a certain ambience in the home such as incense, ornaments, basket ware, handmade paper & cards and even Christmas decorations. There are also personal items such as bags which fit in with the same lifestyle concept. The One Village shops are a glory of subtle colour, and textures - and this is reflected well on the website, nevertheless the emphasis is not so much on a huge range of goods, but on items which will fit and live well together even if purchased some years apart and apparently of a quite different colour and style. There is always something about One Village goods which pulls them together and makes them work together.
The buzz words for people who will really like the goods on the website will be: 'natural materials', 'natural dyes', 'hand-woven', 'handmade', 'subtle', 'timelessness in design', 'environmentally friendly' and 'sustainable use of materials'. The products also tend to be unique, mostly you won't find similar stuff elsewhere unless it is an outlet supplied by One Village. There's one more particularly important buzz word which I'll come to later. However the goods are designed for people who don't just want the word 'natural' or 'environmentally friendly' on the label but who want to know how and why it is natural or sustainable or whatever and whose buying decisions will be partly based on the answers to those questions. But they are also designed for people who don't just want products to be 'virtuous' but to have excellent and unique design also.
If you shop with One Village for some years you'll know that although there is always something new, other items just stay and stay and stay as staples in the range. Some of these items have rather amusingly been in and out of fashion more than once but stay on in the One Village range and always look fresh and new because of the way which they 'fit' with the new products as they come along. If you look at the new website without previous knowledge of One Village it is almost certain that you'll think many of the 'staples' are brand new just designed yesterday because of the way they are presented.
The site uses strong but subtle (rather than primary) colours which give an excellent backdrop to the products on offer. It also gives really detailed product information - excellent for making buying decisions online. For example if you are looking at a 'Weekend Tote Bag' you'll not only be told about the colours and weave and fabric but also every dimension - down to the length of the zip and the size of the pockets, plus its weight. I thought the last item was an excellent point for a weekend bag and this sort of detail takes you across from looking at a picture and thinking 'that's nice' to knowing whether or not it is something you'd find really useful. I thought the site in general scored on 'customer awareness' in the sense of giving you the information you really need to make a buying decision but often don't get in an online shopping situation. There is the usual criticism that the home page takes too long to load, but to be fair it comes up small picture by small picture to give an overview of what's on offer so there's something to look at especially as some of the small pictures change through a range of items or views of items. Also I think I may be over critical on this issue. Being familiar with One Village I was eager to see the 'new stuff' only but someone new to One Village would probably react differently. Similarly I felt the attractive but elaborate 'header' on each page took too long to load (seconds only to be honest) yet I liked the 'strong' design and the overall design of the pages of which the headers are an integral part - online shopping can involve looking at some very utilitarian and often pretty boring pages - this site is never utilitarian and very attractive in concept and you can't have it all ways! Another comment is that the site is very flexible - you can hop around it by various means. I loved this but it might be confusing for people relatively new to internet shopping.
The site clearly has several aims but manages to integrate them well. One aim is to get people to shop from the site using the secure shopping facility and via the usual 'shopping cart' method. With an eye to the European and United States market it offers a helpful currency converter from euros and dollars. Another aim is to cater for those who are worried about shopping online. They are encouraged to choose their products online and then phone their order to One Village using their credit or debit card. Another aim clearly is to get people who can access the shops interested in doing so and one method for doing this is to allow you to order but then pick up the order from one of the shops. As this is a very small 'chain' most people won't be able to but it's a good way of attracting those who can.
Now I come to the final but critical 'buzzword' and also another big aim of the site and that is 'fair trade'. Almost everything in the One Village online store (and in the shops) is sourced from the Third World and especially from India. But not with the aim of getting cheap labour to produce a product which can be sold at a high price in the UK. If you are not familiar with the concept a quick explanation of fair trade is that of 'fairness' (something we all tend to like!) in business relationships. The concept that the producer is entitled to a fair price or fair wage for their work and talents and the buyer is entitled to quality goods at a fair price. Please note that here 'fair' does not mean cheapest but 'fair' for the quality, design and/or utility of the goods. In 'fair trade' producer and importer/seller work in co-operation to bring a good product to market and 'middlemen' (and middlewomen!) are usually only involved if they really 'add value' to the product or genuinely facilitate the import/marketing process rather than just taking a big cut to the disadvantage of both the producer and the consumer.
Now this is where I think this shopping site really has been cleverly designed. The thing is that they are selling not just a lot of beautiful and unique stuff but they are also selling 'environmental friendliness/sustainability AND they are also selling 'fair trade'. Now obviously these concepts are all rolled up into one in each of the products for sale but how do you convey that to the customer and how do you give the information which some customers at least may demand without putting others off who just like the stuff and really don't want to know more than that?
The answer seems to be well designed but very, very long pages. Each page starts with a product or group of products. There's product information at a primary level (length of zip etc.!). There's product information at an increasingly in-depth level - the ingredients of this soap are with the ingredients described in detail - then you get detail about the uses of the ingredients (e.g. some people with eczema find them good), then you get interesting information about the ingredients and their origin. And you get information about the producer and the fair trade aspect of the product. But as the site is so flexible you can stay on or jump off this escalator as you wish. So you could buy the product (or click away to another page on the site) just on the basis of the picture and the details (length of zip!) or you could learn more about the materials involved, or you could go on to learn about the producer and about the fair trade aspect of this product. So each page on the site is constructed in layers and you can buy because you just like the look of the item or go on to learn much more about it in various ways.
For people who are very interested in Fair Trade there is a closely argued critique of the concept accessible from a button at the top of the Home Page. But it is one of the strengths of the site that you can 'just shop' or 'shop and learn a bit more' or get real in depth info as you wish.
Prices? Well I'd say One Village isn't cheap (though it does have some cheap items) but neither is it expensive. Prices are 'good' for the design and for the quality of the materials used. If you factor in the 'qualities' of environmental sustainability and fair trade, then the prices could be described as 'bargain basement'! If the latter issues don't interest you and you look just at the products generally speaking you'd pay quite a lot more for equivalent items in some well known nationwide High Street quality outlets than you would via the One Village website.
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