In Your Sites: Avon Site Analysis

Avon has set up two ways to buy its products online, one directly from the company (, and one through fairly standardized Web sites for its sales representatives (

In effect, Avon is competing against its Avon ladies.

The ladies’ sites have all the products that are in each Avon catalog to sell, whichmay include sweaters and bug repellent. But still sells the full line ofcosmetics, fragrances and toiletries for which the company is known.

View the PDF — Turn off pop-up blockers! does allow buyers to cut in a rep for a piece of the action. But it does soat the very end of the sales process, with an optional response offered to buyers.There’s not a serious attempt to direct the buyer first to a rep, which is odd for acompany that wants its online strategy to be “rep-centric.”
“They’re cannibalizing themselves offering shopping online without offering theirreps (to customers) right from the home page,” says Geri Spieler, a Web designanalyst with Gartner Group, a research firm. “It’s their advantage over Revlon orL’Oreal. Avon’s making a mistake by having two different sites in”

Finding an E-Rep

“There should be a zip code input box right on the home page. Instead I hadto click through two pages of ‘Find an E-Representative’. Then it asked me for myusername and password—I didn’t have one yet,” notes Spieler. “Next, it wanted me tofill out a form. I don’t want to give all that info—all I want is to find a rep in mycommunity.”

“It would be easy to solve the difference between and, and makesure this was a rep-centric strategy,” explains Bruce Arnstein, Director ofOperations at Richard A. Eisner & Co. LLP. “On, you’d just ask—firstthing—what you rep’s name was or (for some) other ID.”

But it’s not always so easy. Len Edwards, the president of, said the intentin early 2000 was to come up with one big integrated site. That proved too hard totackle; so the company decided to let be the outlet for so-called “channelrejecters”—customers who do not want to buy through representatives.

The rejecters “don’t want someone knocking on their door. They don’t want to dealwith anybody. They want the anonymous experience of going to a store and buying whatthey want and walking away,” Edwards says.

Atpresent, the design of the and sites appears to favor those”rejecters.”

In three steps, customers can start looking at products to buy; and only aftershopping does ask the customer to identify herself.

The site tries to give you the feeling of having that beauty adviser lookingover your shoulder while you’re shopping. But technology and design isn’t used tomake personal. One test we tried was sending a question concerning a colorshade from the site through the “Email Us” link. After three days, theresponse suggested contacting a representative to see the color chart—signed “AvonInformation Center.” Not signed Ashley, not Jessica. This is a missed opportunity forthe site (and Avon) to feel more human, more personal.

If the idea of is to not “have someone knocking” on the doors of rejecters,the site should answer all the needs of the “rejecters” online. If there is to be ahuman link, then link to a live Avon rep on the other end of an instant chat.

If you want to buy from an Avon sales rep online, you first have to say who you are,and then it will take about a half-dozen steps before you start looking at anyproducts to buy.

That’s due in large part to the attempt by to faithfully replicate theactual pages of the Avon catalog online.

The site provides shopping via their catalogs. You choose which catalogyou want to shop from and then see images of the spread catalog. You can flip throughpage by page or by the table of contents. The large images are slow to download; theshopping process is tedious. is the site that will allow you to shop with a rep ID following youaround the site. You can easily ask questions by e-mailing your rep.

Yet many rep bios are empty. That needs to be fixed. By contrast, lets acustomer browse by product name and shows individual, small product images. Imagesare much faster to load and navigation leads buyers to products they want, or to seewhat’s new.

“It’s silly and very expensive to have so many different Web sites, a bit behind thetimes. They’ll eventually come to that conclusion,” said Andrew Rudin, Partner atRichard A. Eisner & Co. LLP. “I think ultimately they want people to go to”

What Avon Is Doing Right

“Avon may have worked out a way to have its cake and eat it, too,” explained LairdMiller who has worked as a Creative Director at Ogilvy & Mather and Foote, Cone +Belding. “ is a new opportunity to market directly to the consumer, respects the valuable existing Avon/Rep/Customer relationship.” is more effective from a selling standpoint than On the MaryKay site you can’t get anywhere without choosing a rep. And consumers can’t purchaseonline at at all—no credit card, no e-commerce. You can only place anorder on the rep site and wait for your rep to presumably call you for a credit cardnumber.

“ opens a new acquisition channel to the customer who either doesn’t have anAvon representative or doesn’t want one,” Miller says.

Susan Plonka is a principal of Plonka Interactive, a Web development agency inDallas. She can be reached at [email protected]