December 31, 2007, 12:00 AM

Modern Art

(Page 3 of 3)

In some months ShopPBS.com receives up to 700,000 visits, particularly after PBS airs a much-anticipated program such as “The War,” a new documentary by Ken Burns. But on the old site, which PBS last redesigned in 2003, it took the organization’s core customers too long to find products and make a purchase.

If, for instance, a shopper wanted to search for a movie or TV show on British drama the internal search engine would return all 360 titles in the ShopPBS.com inventory. “The old site search was confusing and one of the features we wanted to improve,” says PBS vice president of home entertainment and partnerships Andrea Downing.

ShopPBS.com was originally built in-house using Oracle hardware and software and later moved to a GSI platform. But after years of using outdated technology, it was clear that ShopPBS.com needed better technology and improved features that would make it easier to showcase products and reduce the time it took shoppers to find a product.

In conjunction with GSI, PBS marketing and merchandising managers spent eight months crafting a new design plan. Today the new design has reduced by 50% the time it takes visitors to locate a product and complete a purchase.

The new ShopPBS.com now filters video products by attributes such as price, production year, title and whether or not a program has already aired on PBS. This is particularly helpful when shoppers want to see lists of videos only in DVD or only in the older VHS format. PBS and GSI also introduced advanced shopping tools and product pages with more detail. Most product pages now feature advanced zoom, video clips and an e-mail a friend button. Other buttons let visitors and shoppers check on product availability and view previously purchased items and product recommendations. “We spent a lot of time making sure that what should be in the history category is now there,” Downing says.

Restructuring product content and building a better taxonomy from the ground up can be time consuming. It took ShopPBS.com about eight weeks to reclassify its product information and merchandising categories. But with better organized content, the pay-off can be immediate and longer term.

“If a retailer will spend the time to learn how customers shop the site and organize their content around those characteristics, they can implement features and functions that don’t have to be rebuilt each time another redesign comes along,” says Dayna Bateman, senior strategic analyst at web design, development and managed services provider Fry Inc. “Look at how Amazon.com built its recommendation application or how Blue Nile built its ring building tool. These are two examples of earlier generation features that were designed right the first time and are working just fine today with only periodic updates.”

With a strong foundation of already well-planned and executed features and functions, retailers are also in a better position to implement site upgrades. For instance, HP Home & Home Office Store, the business-to-consumer e-commerce arm of Hewlett-Packard Co., was an early believer in designing web site features and packaging content around a family of products.

As early as 2004, HPShopping.com

featured pages and tools that enabled shoppers to compare digital cameras and related accessories. Recently, using its existing site taxonomy and page categories as the foundation, HP Home & Home Office Store added more advanced features.

Visitors to HPShopping.com can now fill out a questionnaire that targets their interest in specific printers. The questionnaire asks visitors to narrow their selection to specifics such as black and white or color features, preferred features, how many pages they print each month, price, and other metrics. The completed questionnaire then leads them to an enhanced product page laid out with zoom technology, a product comparison table, detailed features and functions, and related products.

HP has also refined site search to allow customers to search by different criteria such as price after rebate, megapixel size, display size and optical zoom for a digital camera. “We didn’t have to reinvent the wheel to give customers better shopping tools,” says Michael Ritter, vice president of merchandising for HP Home & Home Office Store. “We’re evolving the page designs and site features to reflect the new ways our customers are shopping online.”

Formal plan

With a clear design strategy, HP Home & Home Office Store no longer implements new features and functions on an ad-hoc basis. Instead, it adds tools and applications according to a defined timeline or when it makes sense to improve a particular area such as site search. “A development timeline based on a current analysis helps us avoid falling into a rut and keeps the site fresh and up to date,” says Ritter.

With a central design plan in place, other online retailers are also implementing site features that create new and ongoing business opportunities. For example, having already rolled out a full suite of updated features and functions, PC Universe is using its new web site design and e-commerce platform to introduce one final element: a technical services wizard. The wizard, which PC Universe rolled out in November, guides the shopper through a series of questions about the equipment to be purchased, the number of end users, and the customer’s computer environment and business processes.

Once a shopper answers all the questions, the shopper can schedule an installation or other technical services at the same time he is completing the purchase of a new computer. “We centralized the process for introducing new features and functions and now we are seeing a payback on our planning,” says Colletta. “We now have a solid foundation for adding tools that customers want and in ways that will make us different from our competitors.”

mark@verticalwebmedia.com

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