If you’re reading the fashion blog Man Repeller, you’re likely to stumble upon the website’s new shop, simply called Repeller. Is it really a store? It’s hard to tell, at first. Click on the site, and it invites you to pick your own adventure: “I want to PLAY” or “I want to SHOP.” Click SHOP and you’ll find a dozen products, like earrings, scarves, and handbags, each with a price clearly labeled. But choose PLAY, and the shopping experience turns bizarre. It’s like stepping into the looking glass, if Lewis Carroll had written in the digital age.
In a world where most fashion-focused e-commerce sites favor minimalism, the Repeller site is full of interactive bells and whistles. As you scroll through the PLAY section, you see a window covered with a blind. As you move down, the blinds are drawn, revealing an arm covered in tomatoes. You’re invited to pick an adjective and two nouns, which results in a hilarious affirmation statement featuring your words. If you choose to turn the sound button on, this entire experience will occur to clinking, waves crashing, and other noises that may or may not be related to what you are seeing. What does it all mean? Who the hell knows. But you can’t help but continue looking around.
Every so often, you spot the odd product on the PLAY site, but they aren’t the focus. “The products are all shoppable,” says Dasha Faires, the creative director who created this site. “But no UX expert would have approved of this.”
Leandra Medine, who founded Man Repeller in 2010, tasked Faires with helping to launch the e-commerce site earlier this year. In turn, she brought on Lydia Turner, from the design firm Studio Scissor as the website’s web designer. Man Repeller has always been an edgy website, offering a tongue-in-cheek take on the fashion and lifestyle blog. Medine started the blog as a kind of joke, poking fun at how high-fashion clothes are often so man-repelling. But the site took off and nearly a decade later, it’s still offering this “not too serious” take on fashion media. (Recent stories include “Unconventional Life Hack: Remind Yourself You’re Going To Die” and “3 Non-Boring Ways to Wear Jeans This Summer.”) In other words, the site already attracted a particular kind of woman—one with a sense of humor and an unconventional sense of style.
During the 2018 holiday season, Medine launched a small collection of products to sell on the website, and that collection did so well that starting in early June, she launched a permanent store, Repeller. The very first collection involved a sampling of accessories, like a bandana and sunglasses, and products would drop over the next few weeks. In a post on Man Repeller, Medine described the new online store as “a sensorial playground that is a cross between, let’s call it, a digital day dream and our version of what a shopping mall should look like in 2019.”
Faires, an avid Man Repeller reader, was tasked with turning this dream into a reality. She began tinkering with different ideas, incorporating little interactive features across the site. The current version of the Repeller store began as an experiment, but when Faires showed it to Medine, she loved it. “It was weird and different,” Faires says. “That’s the essence of Man Repeller.”
Faires got the go-ahead to keep doing what she was doing. And that’s exactly what she did. In part of the PLAY section, there are piano keys you can actually play when you click them. There’s a dial you can turn to change the background from day to night. There’s a TV with a sandwich on it: As you change the channel, bites disappear from the sandwich. It feels like an “open world” video game, where the entire goal is simply to explore and see what new surprises you might discover.
And that’s perhaps why the site is so effective. One common metric of success for e-commerce is how long a customer stays on the site. Staring at products and interacting with them online makes someone more likely to purchase something, either during that session or later. One theory is that interactive sites keep customers around longer, which may yield more sales. It’s hard to tell whether this is the case with Repeller because the site is only a few weeks old, but preliminary data suggests that customers are spending a lot of time on the online store and are converting at high numbers. And at very least, customers aren’t writing in to say that the navigation is overly complicated or distracting. “I was completely expecting to get some emails with complaints,” Faires says. “In general, it can take time for people to adapt to new interfaces. But so far, there hasn’t been a single negative email. If anything, our customers seem to love it.”
The online Repeller store reflects retail’s evolution in the brick-and-mortar world, as well. After the so-called “retail apocalypse,” the period over the last three years when many physical stores shuttered as e-commerce rose and foot traffic fell, brands discovered that the only way to bring customers back into stores was with immersive, interactive, in-store experiences. Online stores, on the other hand, have stayed fairly standard, with simple interfaces that usually involve rows of products against a white background, without too much unnecessary verbiage and clearly marked prices. They might also have recommended purchases.
The Repeller site does away with all of these norms. Faire acknowledges that the fact that Repeller only has two dozen products makes it easier to have such an interactive site. Every few weeks, new products will drop, and as the selection grows, it might be harder to present everything in this way. But Faire and Medine plan to take things as they come. “It will always be a work in progress,” Faire says. “But no matter what happens, I think we want to keep things quirky.”