Nike recently launched a new, revolutionary commerce site that is built entirely in Macromedia Flash.
I’ve always been critical of Flash sites — although it is a powerful tool, it is typically used poorly and in a way that compromises the usability of the site. Nike, however, in partnership with design firm R/GA, has achieved a level of usability never reached previously using flash. Briefly put, the site is phenomenal.
Guided navigation and refinement tools that are both slick and well thought out — Flash allows for an incredibly smooth, easy user interface, but the design also relies on web navigation standards to make it incredibly easy to learn.
Very cool “lightbox” animation to load product detail, almost like Gap’s “QuickLook” but with the entire product detail.
The browser BACK button works with both product detail and navigation! One of my biggest complaints with Flash has always been that it deactivates the inherent browser tools (and such the tools that users are familiar with) — R/GA has coded the pages so this is not an issue.
Shopping cart works similar to Gap’s, making itself known enough to give good feedback, but not taking the user away from the path they are currently on.
“Single-page checkout” allows users to get through the entire checkout interface without reloading the page; repeat users can checkout with lightning speed. Nike has already seen an increase in checkout conversion from their previous incarnation.
Although one might think that designing a site entirely in Flash would greatly compromise natural search optimization, Nike has built a skeleton site specifially for spiders to crawl and as such is better poised for natural search than they were before. (I’d hope they can leverage this for reader accessibility as well — espeically in light of the Target lawsuit — but I can’t say for sure that this is the case.)
Can be slow to load, even on a fast connection. (It should be noted that users without Flash can still browse the old site; Nike reports that around 7% of all traffic still uses the non-Flash site.)
The zoom feature can be a bit strange at first, as the product description and selection fields appear over top of the enlarged product. I think that this will become less befuddling after repeated use, but I was thrown the first time I saw it.
The dropdown menus can be a bit skittish; moving my cursor around the page (especially in the masthead) seemed to send menus flying in every direction. Perhaps putting a split-second delay on the menu would help prevent it loading when the cursor simply passes over it.
It took about 4 weeks for sales to return to the level they were before the launch. Although this implementation was clearly ripe for an “all at once” launch, with all we have learned it is a shame that a company still needs to take that big of a hit when launching new functionality.