October 26, 2001, 12:00 AM

L.L. Bean re-launches web site in time for peak holiday season

With better search, product viewing and other new features, web sales that already are ahead of last year could contribute 25% of revenues in 2001, L.L. Bean says.

Ten months ago, L.L. Bean set out to do a major revamp of its web site for first time in two years. This week, it met that goal by launching its first major web site redesign since October 1999. The re-launched site features speedier navigation, improved product viewing and search function, and a new comparison feature that lets shoppers line up the features of spec-heavy products such as sleeping bags and hiking boots side by side.

Bean met another key goal by completing the re-launch ahead of its peak season, says Shawn Gorman, e-commerce marketing manager. “We don’t want any changes happening during peak demand because we don’t want to have to deal with any systems or codes which could have the site down,” he says. Getting the job done – and on time – was no small task. The new product enlargement feature, for example, goes beyond zoom to pop up a daughter window that doubles the size of the image to fill the entire screen. Not only can viewers then see small details such as stitching in the enlargements, but they can also switch colors to see the same detail in every color in which the item is offered. That alone was “a massive undertaking,” Gorman says, as the new functionality was extended to about 3,000 products, most with multiple SKUs that required the same treatment, adding up to about 15,000 product images, or 95% of Bean’s online offering.

Faster navigation in the form of category-specific pull-down menus eliminates an average of two clicks in connecting shoppers with the products they want to find, Gorman says, while new search functionality returns results that show thumbnail images rather than text descriptions of each relevant product, along with prices, on the initial results page. A new comparison feature for hiking boots, tents, and other products differentiated by technical specifications – about 10% of Bean’s online offering -- lets shoppers review similar products and their features side by side on the same page.

One week into the re-launch, customer response has been "enthusiastic,” Gorman says, as determined by information gathered from surveys and feedback from customer support reps staffing phone lines and live chat functions. “We’re already ahead of expectations in web sales,” he adds, noting that online sales will likely represent about 25% of Bean’s overall sales this year, up from 16% to 17% last year. To hit that number, the site must perform flawlessly over the next several weeks as demand builds in Q4, when retailers make as much as 50% of the year’s revenues. “We’re growing pretty quickly,” says Gorman. “Year to date, we’re about 50% over last year. That will decline as the base grows, because it`s much harder to grow at that rate as we get into the peak, and we had a very good season last year. We’re hoping that Christmas is good.”

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