Brand Experience Breakdown: Why One New Homeowner Decorated With Gray Malin Photography

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Editor’s Note: Consumer spending behavior changed rapidly in early 2020. People began making the bulk of their purchases online as states and stores shut down due to a public health emergency that was sweeping the nation. This is part of a series of articles that highlight elements of a consumer’s ecommerce shopping experience. 

I’ve been a fan of Gray Malin’s work for a long time. Ever since I saw one of his beautiful aerial beach photos come across my Instagram feed, I was hooked. 

As a New England native, I love all things coastal. As an avid traveler, I love the beautiful beaches, hotels, and other places in the world that evoke a sense of wanderlust. Combined, those things are precisely why Gray’s stunning photos and beautiful aesthetic caught my eye. 

Last Labor Day, I purchased my first home and had visions of designing every space I could with Gray’s gorgeous work. The only thing stopping me: fine art photography wasn’t in my budget. Having just bought my first house, disposable income was tight.

But my family and friends clearly knew about my not-so-secret love for Gray’s work. As a housewarming gift, I received one of his coffee table books, which paired wonderfully with his other coffee table book that I had already bought for myself. 

Then it happened. 

For Christmas last year, my mom gave me my very first Gray Malin print—one I’d been coveting even before I’d moved into my house. 

To say I squealed with the exuberance of a 10-year-old girl opening an autographed New Kids on the Block poster is an understatement. That actually happened (it was 1990 and I may or may not have hyperventilated) and I was just as excited to unwrap my first Gray Malin print (while I kept the hyperventilation in check this time around, I did let out a high-pitched shriek of pure and utter joy). 

I was so happy to have that print. It’s currently hanging over the wine fridge in my kitchen, so I see it every day. I hadn’t planned to purchase any more prints because photography still wasn’t in my budget. 

But then came the coronavirus. 

In early 2020, Massachusetts was one of the early states to be hit hard by the pandemic. Stay-at-home orders went into place and, while trying to adjust to this uncertain time, I decided to carve off a few extra dollars from each paycheck to work on decorating my new house since I was no longer commuting into the city. 

I had only moved in a few months earlier, so there was still work to be done to make the place feel homier. I was fortunate enough to have a stable job, thankfully, so I wasn’t too worried about my income prospects at the time. 

As I scoured the internet searching for eye-catching home decor that was both of high quality and good value, I couldn’t help but find myself on Gray Malin’s Instagram account, longingly scrolling through photos I could only imagine hanging on my new walls. 

Then one day, I noticed Gray was having a sale—20 percent off, plus a free double-sided puzzle featuring two of his most popular photographs. That was just the incentive I needed to treat myself to a couple of photos I’d been coveting. Plus, the puzzle was the perfect free gift for the times!

My experience shopping on Gray Malin’s website

Before I decided to make my purchase, I had mostly engaged with Gray Malin’s Instagram account, though I had previously subscribed to the brand’s email list. Occasionally, they’ll send out free backgrounds for your phone. It was nice to have beautiful photography at my fingertips, even if the prints weren’t within my reach. 

From a marketing perspective, these free phone backgrounds are a brilliant way to engage fans and keep a brand top of mind by getting people to look at your work every single time they check their phones. 

While I had previously subscribed to the brand’s email list, I never engaged with them much because I never had an intention to buy. 

Instead, I followed the brand on Instagram and occasionally clicked through to the website to check out the price of something that caught my eye, each time hoping it might be nearer in reach. 

Then, the time had finally come. I was ready to take advantage of the sale and make my first purchase. 

I visited GrayMalin.com and spent some time looking around the site. I knew I wanted to buy a couple of small photographs from his Italian series to put on the sides of my dining room hutch—a 1960s piece of furniture that had been passed down to me from my grandmother. And I knew I wanted photography from this series specifically because Italy holds a special place in my heart. 

Earlier in my career, I had worked full-time while going to graduate school at night to earn my MBA. After those three and a half long, stressful years, I took my first (and only, but hopefully not last) trip to Italy as a reward for the hard work. When I first saw Gray’s Italian series, I knew I wanted a piece from it to commemorate that milestone in my life. 

When I landed on Gray Malin’s website, I realized there were a lot of ways to navigate it, which I appreciated as a visitor. 

At the top of the page, visitors can choose to explore Favorites, which span a variety of categories like best sellers, most popular, and more. There’s also an option to search by Place, so if you know of a destination that’s of interest, you can go right to it. What’s more, under the Photography tab, there’s the option to shop by theme (i.e., beach, water, desert, aerial, animals, and more), format (i.e., horizontal, vertical, diptych, triptych, and more), or series (i.e., A la Plage, Bon Voyage, La Dolce Vita, and more).

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Gray also smartly parlayed his photography into a series of lifestyle-related products, which you can purchase on his site, as well. Lovers of games, coaster sets, picture frames, tote bags, luggage tags, passport cases, cocktail kits, and more will find something on his site—perfect for gifting (or one for me, one for you, which is how I tend to holiday shop)!

There’s also an option to simply Explore the brand, which helps visitors learn more about Gray, how he creates his various series, his approach to framing, and the collaborations he’s done with other brands such as Serena and Lilly and The Beverly Hills Hotel for the new Gray Malin cabana, Bugaboo for a line of stroller covers, and Paperless Post for chic digital invitations. 

Visitors can explore the Lifestyle section of the site and go straight to Gray’s blog, which covers a range of related topics like travel, entertaining, decorating, and more.

As I navigated the site, I knew that I wanted photographs specifically from Gray’s La Dolce Vita series. I had visited the Amalfi Coast on my trip to Italy and absolutely loved it. I also thought it would be a real treat to have photos of places I had actually visited hanging on my walls next to my grandmother’s dining hutch. After all, it was my grandparents who, along with my parents, cultivated my love of travel at a young age. What can I say? I’m sentimental. 

I clicked on Favorites in the top navigation and explored several photographs in the Italian Favorites section. The listing page offered good-sized images of each photograph so I could easily decide if I wanted to click through to view a larger version. 

Under each thumbnail appears the name of the photo and the series to which it belongs, and if you hover over the photo, you’ll see three small icons showing you your framing options. You can choose the Quick Shop option to pull up a pop-up that features more details about the sizes, prices, and framing options. Or you can click-through the image to visit a product details page. I chose the latter option.

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The product details pages have useful information. When you visit one, you can see the available sizes for each print, how many were made in each size (i.e., edition of 100), whether the item is available, sold out, or low in stock, and both the print and framed print sizes, which are particularly helpful when measuring how much space you have on your walls.

The pages also feature detailed information about the series the photo belongs to, a description of the actual photo itself, framing details, and a clear shipping and return policy.

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Additionally, the page gives you an option to view the photo in a room. I initially expected to be able to view the photo in my own room. On other sites, I’ve seen augmented reality options that allow you to open your camera, point it at a wall, and see how a piece of furniture or art may fit in your space. 

Instead, the option on Gray Malin’s site simply brought up an image of a 60” long table with a photo above it, which you could toggle through the available sizes to estimate how large it truly is. 

Personally, I didn’t find this option to be particularly helpful. I found it a bit hard to judge the size of the table compared with my space, which made it harder for me to judge the size of the photo. I would’ve preferred an augmented reality option to see the photo in my own space. But since that option wasn’t available, I simply took out my own measuring tape and used the available measurements on the product’s details page to determine whether I thought the photos I was considering would be a good fit. Spoiler alert: they were. 

One additional thing Gray Malin could add to their website is a way for visitors to subscribe for updates when popular photos come back in stock

There was one photo that I had my eye on (a real beauty in the La Fontelina Beach Chair Loungers series) that was out of stock in the size I wanted. I would have loved to have been able to sign up to be notified when it was back in stock rather than searching for a different photo that would complement the first photo I chose, though I’m happy with the two I ended up with.  

I was ready to buy. But rather than adding the images to my cart and checking out immediately, though, I decided to add them to my cart and instead go back to the brand’s homepage. 

Since I’m a content marketer by trade, I wanted to get the full experience any new customer might receive and explore the brand’s communications, so I created a new account.

How Gray Malin communicated with me throughout my experience

Shortly after I created my new account, I received an email from the brand asking me to confirm my email address. 

I was glad to see they used a double opt-in because this process helps brands ensure they have a clean list of people who have specifically subscribed to receive communications using a valid email address, which also helps to minimize the risk of being marked as spam.

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Once I confirmed my email address, I began receiving the brand’s welcome series. The first one featured a discount in the subject line: “Let the Getaway Begin With 20% Off ✨.”

I don’t know it was a brilliantly planned choice or a coincidence, but the first photograph in the email is also from the brand’s La Dolce Vita series and another one I’d love to have hanging on my walls someday. 

In addition to the welcome discount, the first email introduced me to the brand. There’s content that helps new subscribers get to know Gray, plus content to help you learn about how he started selling his work at a local flea market and how he began his travels around the world, which have served as the inspiration for his work. 

There’s also content that helps new subscribers learn that this is a brand that creates works of art for your walls as well as your lifestyle, as shown by a featured product—a pouch featuring one of Gray’s photographs.

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The next day, after still not having made my purchase yet, I received another email that was perfectly tailored to my interests. Whether this was an expertly planned part of the brand’s welcome series or a relevant message based on an abandoned cart, I’m not certain. I suspect it was part of the welcome series because I received a specific abandoned cart email, as well, at the same time. But with the subject line, “Ready for an Italian Adventure?” I was eager to take a peek at this next email, either way. 

In it were a variety of images from Gray’s travels through Italy to places like Capri, Amalfi and Positano, San Remo and Portofino, plus a link to explore Gray’s travel journals. It’s a beautiful, simple email that will evoke any traveler’s desire to take a vacation simply by looking at it. The photography takes center stage and it’s accompanied by minimal yet relevant text.

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I mentioned that I received an abandoned cart email at the same time as the previous email. And when I say the same time, I mean the exact same time. 

It’s less than ideal for subscribers to receive two different emails from a brand at the exact same time, so Gray Malin likely has an opportunity to re-examine their automated messages and segment their emails a bit more to avoid sending subscribers too many messages at the same time.

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The following day, I received what I suspect is the third email in Gray Malin’s welcome series. It’s another lovely email, which features images of the brand’s most popular and best-selling photographs. 

The subject line is clear and simple: “See Our Most Popular Photographs” and the email once again lets the images take center stage while featuring minimal copy. For a brand that sells such a visual product, this feels like a message that will resonate with subscribers.

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At this point, I felt like I had a good sense of how Gray Malin welcomes new subscribers into the brand and I was ready to make my purchase (plus, I didn’t want to miss that sale!). 

The checkout experience 

I returned to Gray Malin’s website to find the items I had previously added to my cart still there once I logged back into my account. I had been deciding between a few different photos, so I narrowed it down to the final two: Capri Sunset and S. Salvatore, Positano. 

The checkout experience was extremely straightforward. My cart clearly contained what I had previously added to it and I saw where I could add the promotional code I received in my first welcome email. 

I then entered my shipping information, my billing information, reviewed everything, and placed my order. 

I forgot to take a screenshot of the checkout page while I was in the process of placing my order (my excitement got ahead of me!), but here’s an example of what it looks like with a different offer.

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Once I placed my order, I received a confirmation email that clearly showed me exactly what I purchased, how much it cost, the payment method I used, where I was having the order shipped and billed to, and how long it would take for the order to process and ship to me. 

This was particularly important information because I ordered these photographs in the middle of a pandemic when many brands were experiencing longer than usual shipping timeframes. 

I’m not certain if this information was also available during checkout, but if it was, I missed it. 

I know the information about shipping is available on the product’s details page, but I didn’t recall it since I had spent some time considering my purchase before I actually placed my order. 

While Gray Malin clearly communicates this information in their confirmation emails, they also have the opportunity to reiterate shipping timeframes to visitors during the checkout process before visitors place an order to even more clearly set expectations.  

Then, a few days later, I received another email, nearly identical to my order confirmation, informing me that my order had shipped. It included all the relevant information I needed like my order number, an option to track my package, a customer service email address and a phone number along with the brand’s hours of operation, details about exactly what I ordered, how it shipped, and the brand’s clear return policy.

7 Tips for Better Shipping Confirmation Emails

The unboxing and post-purchase experience

My photographs arrived on schedule in large individual boxes with a clear label indicating that they were from Gray Malin.

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When I opened the box, I was pleasantly surprised to find a note from the brand attached to the picture hook. It included information about the series and the photographer, which is a nice way to help customers learn more about the brand as they unbox their goods. Additionally, Gray Malin included a nail I could use to hang the picture, which I thought was a really nice touch.

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Additionally, the box included a handy card with details on what I’d need to do to hang the picture. I thought this was great because it put the instructions right in the palm of my hand. I didn’t need to Google how to properly hang a picture or visit a page on the website. I had everything I needed, minus a hammer, right in front of me.

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It was actually such a differentiator to me that I thought about it recently when I bought a large 30-lb mirror for my front hallway from another brand. That brand did not include any hanging instructions or advice on hardware, nor did they have any of that educational information available on their website. Rather, their customer service rep told me I should hire a handyman to figure it out. I didn’t care for that advice and it was enough for me to think to myself, “Gray Malin should teach them a few lessons!” 

Hanging the pictures was incredibly easy. I used the nail the brand provided, measured my walls, and voila! Here’s the final result. Thank you, Gray Malin, for helping me make this 1960s hutch modern yet still classic!

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My post-purchase experience 

One thing I’ve particularly loved about this brand is how they’ve used social media during the pandemic. As I mentioned, I’ve been following this brand for a long time, and while their content’s always been engaging, they’ve recently started creating more content featuring Gray himself. 

I feel like I’ve had an opportunity to learn more about him and his work, and hear and see a lot of really interesting behind-the-scenes footage of how he’s captured certain shots. 

Gray’s also shared stories about becoming a father and welcoming his twins into his home, how he’s decorated his family’s lake house, and how he got started selling his work on his own website after finding success selling his work at a flea market. He’s giving his audience an opportunity to get to know him better, which helps connect them more to his work. This ultimately deepens the relationship the brand has with customers.

Thoughts on my overall experience shopping from Gray Malin

Overall, I was really pleased with my experience shopping from Gray Malin. I found it easy to discover the type of photography I was looking for on his website and I found all of the information I needed about the photographs to be pretty clear and readily available.

The unboxing experience was the highlight of my purchase. Including small but significant details like the nail to hang my photograph on and a detailed card to explain exactly how to hang it made it incredibly easy and enjoyable for this new homeowner to hang up some beautiful photographs that truly help to make my new house a home. 

Interested in more brand breakdowns? Discover another new homeowner’s experience with buy online, curbside pickup at The Home Depot.

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