December 31, 2007, 12:00 AM

Modern Art

(Page 2 of 3)

Teachers and parents like the new site. Since the web site was redesigned, traffic to Scholastic.com has increased by 20% and more than 8,000 teachers have signed up for the new digital library. “The site redesign gives teachers, parents and students what they want most: deeper content and faster features and functions to access and use that content,” Radwell says.

Sweat the details

The process of redesigning an e-commerce site, especially a site with advanced features, takes time. A small or medium-sized retailer will take about six months to implement a new design; big web merchants with large inventories and multiple shopping tools can take up to 14 months. Designers and marketing managers look closely at the different paths visitors take as they arrive and leave the site and the amount of time and money shoppers spend on product pages. With a better understanding of how visitors are navigating and shopping their site, designers then complete a detailed features analysis of their competitors’ e-commerce sites, rank their priorities and write a formal implementation plan. The plan usually includes a 12-month timeline for the features and functions the retailer expects to add each quarter.

“It’s tempting to want to have every new bell and whistle, but an implementation timeline helps retailers focus on adding only the most pertinent new features that will positively impact their business,” says Betsy Emery, founder and chief executive officer of Tellus, a Cincinnati retail web site design firm. “Retailers must know in detail how customers are using their site and then implement only the best new tools that will hook shoppers and increase traffic and sales conversions.”

Due diligence and market research help retailers do a better job of meeting customer expectations. For example, L’OrÈal USA Inc. used competitive analysis and feedback from cosmetics professionals as the foundation for re-launching Lancome-USA.com. When L’OrÈal USA re-launched the site in May, a top priority was developing features and functions that made it easier for customers to find products and mix and match different shades of cosmetics.

Prior to the redesign, L’OrÈal USA spent six months studying the key features and functions of cutting-edge sites in retailing and in other industries such as automotive. The company, which carries about 1,100 SKUs online, then designed site architecture based on feedback from top sales associates that sell cosmetics to customers at leading department stores. L’OrÈal USA also hired professional artists to analyze color palettes and hues and make sure that the same shades that customers could see at a cosmetics counter were also online.

“Beauty products are constantly changing, but if a customer has a particular shade of lipstick that they’ve had in the cabinet for a while and want to see if it’s still available, or what’s replacing it, they can now do that task online,” says L’OrÈal USA vice president of e-commerce and customer relationship management Sarah Williams.

Today the redesigned Lancome-USA.com features a top-of-the-page and left-side-of-the-page layout that enables visitors to shop by category and topic and choose colors. Another new site feature, Quick Shop, gives customers the ability to mouse over a product and see a box that presents the viewer with information on quantity, item and price. The pop-up box also allows shoppers to add the item to their wish lists or complete a transaction. On each page a visitor can also see a list of recently viewed items.

To make it easier for customers to compare and find products, L’OrÈal USA added another feature that enables customers to type the name of a discontinued cosmetic or fragrance into a search box, select the proper shade or scent, and see suggestions on new products that are similar. “Buying cosmetics is complicated,” says Williams. “This new design and the tools we’ve built in enable shoppers to make a purchase from anywhere on the site.”

Spending time on the fundamentals of good features and functions planning is paying off for L’OrÈal USA. Since the redesign, the site’s shopping cart abandonment has been reduced by about 10% and monthly sales are up by a similar percentage.

Sticking to basics

With proper planning and attention to detail, web merchants such as L’OrÈal USA are minimizing the chance that a poorly designed feature or an ill-timed site redesign can hurt performance. Early on in the start-up phase of Internet retailing, many merchants upgraded their e-commerce sites with sound, video and animated graphics only to find that shoppers using a dial-up connection couldn’t access the site or clicked away from the site because pages took too long to load. Now more retailers are avoiding features and functions implementation problems by paying closer attention to the fundamentals of proper data management and site navigation.

“If a merchant wants to design a web store with features and functions that operate smoothly and meet a customer’s expectation they need to concentrate on the basic blocking and tackling of organizing their product information,” says Riccardo La Rosa, director, emerging interactions at Molecular Inc., a Boston e-commerce consulting and web design firm. “There’s no sense in implementing a faster search engine if the site taxonomy isn’t properly organized or the product data isn’t organized in ways that make sense to shoppers.”

Taxonomy is how retailers structure the dataóparticularly the products, product details and categoriesóthat a site search application uses to return answers to a visitor’s query. A good taxonomy that supports a site search application should contain sufficient product detail, which, in turn, supports parametric navigation and sorting and the filtering of products by attributes such as price. “Well-described metadata and a good taxonomy are essential ingredients in designing features and functions that reflect how customers actually use the site and not how retailers think they do,” says GSI’s Murphy.

Know the customer

Site search and page designs can also be improved if web retailers think of organizing their information based on how visitors use the data and navigate the site. For example, ShopPBS.com knows that taking the time and making the effort to get content organization and the site taxonomy just right can deliver better results. When ShopPBS.com, the business-to-consumer e-commerce unit of Public Broadcasting Service, and GSI Commerce redesigned the PBS web site, a top priority was developing features that matched the needs of affluent older shoppers.

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