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Aromatherapy defies expectations...

Our popular reviewer Mike Swope takes a look at the The Aromatherapy of Rome Candles web site since sites change quite frequently, we've posted a screen of the site Mike saw... just click the image at right.

Sedate minimalist...

The Aromatherapy of Rome Candles web site is an authorized reseller of candles manufactured by the Aroma Candle & Scent Company. Aromatherapy is "the use of selected fragrant substances in lotions and inhalants in an effort to affect mood and promote health." So visitors are expecting a positive experience from the site, and of course the candles. Unfortunately, the site falls just this side short of providing a satisfying experience, predicated from a extravagantly-named business and product (Rome and candles). The experience, instead, is considerably more minimalist, direct and sedate than either the name or the product suggests.

There are a few problems with the copy.

It is spare and direct (a positive for web sites), but on some pages I wish it were not so spare and direct, I wish it were more extravagant and lavish.
      For example, the second paragraph on the front page immediately confuses, as the candles (the purpose for the site) are forgotten in the extravagance of the language. The web site is called "Aromatherapy of Rome Candles." But the first sentence of the second paragraph: "Inspired by the 9th century Italian thermal springs of Abano, Aromatherapy of Rome evokes the serene, soothing environs and therapeutic calm often absent in our rushed lives today." There is a grammatical error here that suggests that the business/web site evokes these things, not the candles.
      The incorrect subject here is a small error with huge consequences, for those who actually read this page. The solution is to insert the word "candles" in this sentence. Otherwise, this copy works for this reviewer for the purpose of the site and its products.
      In contrast, the copy on the information pages is absolutely minimal, clear and direct, a HUGE bonus for any site. No flowery feel-good prose here. The Shipping Information page, for example, minces no words, with just 4 sentences. Shoppers know that it will cost them a flat rate of exactly $7.95 to ship their entire order (by either UPS or USPS Priority Mail; that express delivery is available by contacting the company; that they will receive an email confirmation when their order is processed; and that their order should arrive at their door within 10 business days.
      The other information pages (Accepted Payments, Returns Policy, Aromatherapy Resources) are just as spare and direct. Kudos for these pages! But I am divided by the copy on the products pages. Although I admire Hemingway's prose as much as anyone (H is one of my favorite authors), the Hemingway-esque patterns and structures in the copy on these pages, where the site is selling their wares, is too direct and clinical. Subject-verb-object works for Hemingway, but the cadence and lack of poetry in the language used to sell candles made from natural oils and fragrances to promote peace, happiness and health contradicts the site's purpose: entice visitors to buy these candles that will help them to feel good about themselves and the world. It is a SHARP contradiction.
      Rather, I had anticipated language akin to the copy of the front page, espousing the wonderful holistic benefits of these aromatherapy candles. The solution: revise the copy on the products pages to be more like that of the home page.

Site Design

The design of the site is, like the content, spare and minimalist, and clinically similar for every page in the site. The page is entirely white , with 1 pixel light gray borders around the table cells on the pages (banner, left column, right column, footer, and shopping cart entries). The text is black. Links are a navy blue (almost black on PC monitors). Visited links are a medium gray just a shade or two darker than the borders. Once an order is placed, the page headlines are orange (not black).
      Overall, the pages are very gray. Not even links or visited links are contrasted very well. Solution: use orange (appears in the banner, in the candles, and on the checkout pages) in some manner for links, possibly 2 shades of orange. This would match the existing scheme of the site. The only color in the site proper appears in the images, but there are only 4 images in the entire site: the site banner, an image of credit cards, a secure site graphic, and one product photo of 9 candles (4 white, 5 orange). Nothing wrong with the banner or commerce-related images, but the single product photo is a problem.

One solution to this dilemma is to move the photo higher on the page, possibly below the banner, possibly between the page heads and content, but its placement should be part of the design, not content, so it should be constant across the product pages. The other recommendation is to make the image larger on the home page, or differentiate it in some other way, so that the home page is differentiated in some way from the product pages, as well.
      As noted above, all the pages are (almost uncomfortably) similar and indistinguished. If the areas noted in this critique can be addressed, this web site would better meet its own expectations and the expectations of visitors.
      That I've not noted any difficulties with the shopping cart or other features of the site means that they meet this reviewer's expectations. The site, overall, was very easy to use and place an order. A few clicks and any visitor can order. This feature should not be tampered with. Let's just put some lillies on the frame.

WDR Comments:

Mike, were we looking at the same site? As always I agree with your astute observations about this site, but there's one additional impression I got that you either missed, or didn't want to talk about.

Where's the product???

It's totally unclear which product is what from that photo, and the photo is basically the ONLY product photo in the entire site. Each and every page is a shopping cart page -- however try as I may, I could not see exactly what product I would be buying. I did not attempt to buy, perhaps after filling out one of the forms you THEN see the product. But this is bass-ackwards.
      I suspect this site doesn't get many sales. I for one will not purchase anything until I've absorbed enough information about the product to make the purchasing decision. Most other shoppers have the same opinions. And on the web, photos are about the only way to show the potential buyer what they're going to get for their money.

Thumbs down for this one

Yes, the look and feel is clean... almost elegant. Yes, the site works perfectly. No, it doesn't fulfill the reader expectations, nor does it sell any product. This site betrays both the web visitor and the client who is trying to sell candles.

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