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Posts Tagged ‘reviews’

November 25th, 2008

Your Guide to Online Holiday Shopping

Yes its that time of year again…Black Friday (cue scary, suspenseful music).  The food coma from the day’s turkey dinner is lifting and the deals are so good that they convince people to flock to the stores at increasingly obscene hours of the early morning and run the risk of getting trampled in the mad dash for that last Wii Fit.

It’s more than a little ridiculous, and it doesn’t have to be that way. Thanks to increasingly well-designed and easy to use e-commerce sites its possible to have a great shopping experience (and get great deals) without ever leaving your house.

AgencyTool is anti-gettingtrampled and pro-qualitydesign, so we’ve put together a guide of the best designed, most user-friendly online shopping sites around.  We’ve also thrown in a few ‘off the beaten track’ sites to make sure you stay creative in your gift-giving.  Enjoy!


First up, ebay.  The site has come a long way since the early days in terms of user-friendliness.  Its easy to use and you can find great deals.  They also have a very efficient reporting system, so in the off-chance you buy something fake or ‘not as promised’ ebay will get your money back asap.

Ideeli is members only, but you shouldn’t have any trouble finding an invite code. They run frequent promotions in magazines and chances are someone you know is already a member and can invite you.  They have great sales on designer apparel and accessories.  The best part?  Every now and then they have giveaway contests, yep they give away designer handbags, jewelry, clothes, you name it.  Awesome. They keep the design simplistic by only having a few items on sale at any given time, allowing users to check back whenever they want something new instead of being overwhelmed by millions of products.


Incase is the perfect mix between online store and design showcase.  They sell cases for all your gadgets – cell phones, computers etc. – as well as stylish bags and carry cases, but the site is so much more.  Their tag-line is “A better experience through good design” we think that pretty much sums it up.


While not really an e-commerce site on its own, is a social shopping community that posts online coupon codes from various different retailers.  The look is fun and fresh, and it’s user review system makes this the best designed coupon gathering site around.’s design is crisp and neat, but not overly impressive.  The site is extremely easy to use and understand but is on the list mainly because of the creative spin they put on online shopping.  Not sure what to get someone on your list?  Head to Surprise where they not only suggest gifts by holiday but by what the person is like.  Is he a foodie? A movie buff? How about the perfect gift for someone who is always cold.  The sites pulls gift ideas from various other online stores and presents the perfect gift for your hard to buy for person.


Another useful tool for your online shopping experience is Buzzillions.  They have literally buzillions of reviews on all types of products.  The site is clearly designed so that it is easy to find the exact product you are looking for.  Also, the reviews themselves are uniquely designed, with pros and cons sections, ratings, and comparisons to similar products.  The site isn’t trying to sell you these products and doesn’t pay reviewers – so you can be fairly certain you are reading a real review from an actual consumer.

Vann’s Spices

Vann’s Spices is the perfect place to look for a gift for your amateur chef or impossible to buy for/has everything person.  They even make custom blends of spices.  The design is simple and looks great, its also laid out so that there is no doubt where to go for the information you need. is another site that serves as more of a tool than an actual store.  It allows users to visually search for products across multiple retailers.  That means if you find a pair of shoes you love but are way too expensive, you can head to Like and search for a pair that look similar but cost much less.  They’ve designed several cool features into the site, like the detail search – where you can draw a box around a particular feature of a product you like and the site will pull products that have that same feature.

The Purplebook

The Purplebook is essentially a directory for online shopping – retailers are handpicked for inclusion in the book.  Bold color choices make the design unique and the easy to use navigation makes this a great starting point for your online shopping session.


ShopLocal is for those who would rather do all the grunt work online and then just pop by the store to make the actual purchase.  Type in your zip code and the site will scour retailers in your area for sales and special offers, afterwards you can buy online or reserve an item to pick it up at the store. The design is clean and organized albeit a little generic, but the site deserves a mention as it is a great stepping stone for people still a little uncomfortable typing in their credit card info.

Restoration Hardware

Restoration Hardware has everything you could possibly need for the home, plus great gift ideas.  The design is easy on the eyes, which when compared to sites that have a similar number of products offered, is no small feat.

The Apple Store

Last, but definitely not least, the Apple Store.  Apple’s site is the epitome of clean, fresh design and their online store is no different.  They also show us that Black Friday is a go for online retailers as well, announcing that prices will be slashed on their site for that one day only.

There you have it.  So now when the crazies line up around the block at Best Buy at 3am (no offense, I’ve been guilty of this once or twice) you can be warm and cozy, sitting in front of your computer in your  pajamas with a cup of hot chocolate – or really strong coffee.

Think we missed a few? Let us know in the comments!

September 30th, 2008

Review my site…please? Best Places for a Free Website Review

There are companies out there who will gladly bring a critical eye and professionally review your website…for a fee. A few design agencies price this service upwards of $1500 but some as low as $250, and you generally get what you pay for. Many give you a written report, an SEO suggestion and some sort of follow up meeting with them. Great if you’ve got the means, but not exactly within the budget of an amateur web designer or someone looking to get started. Let’s assume you’re looking for some honest feedback or advice. Where do you go?

Option #1 Forums

The first answer shouted out by the google search “review my website” is a forum. Proceed with caution my friends. Unless you are already an established member of said forum, your innocent request for guidance may be interpreted by other members as “spammy”. Don’t get me wrong, forums can be a great (did I mention 100% free) place to get a wide range of opinions and tips for your site. But only as long as you play by the rules, and even then some forums are more welcoming than others. Follow some general rules and you should be OK:

  1. Take a second and read the forum rules/guidelines. They may have a minimum number of posts needed before you get access to certain areas or would be able to post a link to your site for review purposes.
  2. If there is a minimum post requirement don’t DON’T cruise around the forum for 10 minutes and leave 15 random posts in your wake. If you establish yourself as a legitimate member first people will be more likely to take an honest look at your site when you do post it. This may take a few days or even a few weeks, look for threads where you can contribute something valuable, or bring a different perspective to the discussion.
  3. Post your site for review once and only once, and make sure its in the appropriate category.

Some forums are more likely to constructively review your site than others. The ones listed here are good to try, but beware the ’spam’ label…it will get you booted at them all.

Young Entrepreneur Forum Forum
Site Owner’s Forum SEO Refugee Forum
Digital Point Forum

Option #2 Gallery Sites

Another completely free option is submitting to a few of the countless gallery sites out there. There are literally hundreds that take submissions. You may not get a plethora of constructive feedback from this method, but people leave comments here and there and getting selected is a good indicator that your site is on the right track.

DesignShack CSS Vault Style Gala
CSScilp The Daily Slurp Web Design File
CSS Import CSS Reboot

Option #3 Cozy Up to a Blogger

Reach out to a blogger for a review. It can be mutually beneficial, you get a trained eye to critique your site, and the blogger gets a great post out of it. When you are looking for a blogger to send your review request to make sure you actually read through a few of their more recent posts to make sure the relationship will be a good fit. You’ll get a feel for what kind of topics pique their interest and their opinions on issues, you don’t want to send a website about great leather and fur products to an animal rights blogger, for example.

Do your research first, then send out an email to the individual blogger you’d like to review your site – an email sent out to thousands of bloggers is too general to be taken seriously by any of them. Your email should do a few basic things: Introduce yourself and explain your website, show some respect by detailing why exactly a review of your site might turn into a good post for their specific audience, and give them all the information they could possible want or need about your website. If you don’t hear back its fine to send a follow up email – but only one! If you do hear back make sure to keep in contact with the blogger throughout the review and afterwards. A blogger may gear his review to appeal to the audience, so ask him for private feedback as well…you may learn more. Last but not least, don’t get mad if the review isn’t great. When you get a blog review its public and there’s an inherent risk that you could get some bad publicity out of the deal. You’ll make it worse by getting angry or lashing out in retaliation, so take the hit and ask the blogger how you could have done better.

Several bloggers have really embraced this method. Jackie Baker has started Site Clinic, a weekly column-style blog that takes submissions and chooses one each week to write an in-depth review on.

Option #4 Do it Yourself

So what if you’re not an expert, there are plenty of tools out there to test the quality of your website for you. Here are a few good ones:

  • The Trifecta Tool Set – measures the overall strength of your site number of links, number of times your brand is mentioned on the web, and the amount of traffic your site receives
  • W3C Markup Validation – checks the validity of the code on your site
  • Website Grader – measures the marketing effectiveness of your site
  • SEO Scores – analysis of SEO tools/keywords

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