October 1, 2008, 12:00 AM

REI makes standardization the bedrock of its new web site design

It’s been almost a decade since Recreational Equipment Inc. last overhauled its web site, but the retailer is making up for lost time with a new design that features standard design templates, quicker site search and product reviews.

It’s been almost a decade since Recreational Equipment Inc. last overhauled its web site, but the retailer is making up for lost time with a new design that features faster site search and product reviews. The payoff: the average visitor session has increased by 14% to 11 minutes and 23 seconds.

The new site, which REI quietly launched in June, also was built with standard templates on the back end that make it easier for web developers and programmers to make changes to home and product pages. “It was time to move REI.com into the 21st century,” says REI vice president of e-commerce and web strategy Brad Brown. “We can now change the product page template, republish it and each page that uses that template is updated with the change. One template for 4,000 product pages means one change results in all product pages being changed versus having to change each product page in the pre-template world.”

REI, No. 62 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, last completely redesigned its web site in 2000 and had been using the same internally built site search application since 1996. The new platform runs on hardware from Sun Microsystems Inc., a database from Oracle Corp. and Java programming. The new site search engine is an application from Mercado. “We are getting better results and more capabilities to merchandise result pages,” says Brown.

The new site design also features more personalization. REI has equipped the site with customer review technology from PowerReviews Inc. and other customer survey tools from OpinionLab Inc., a developer of web-based customer feedback technologies. “We’ve improved the user experience,” says Brown. “We now have well over 35,000 reviews posted on the site.”

Going forward REI also will begin to add more videos to augment the expert advice videos customers already can access on topics such as bike maintenance, Brown says.

One positive result of the redesign is longer visitor sessions. The average visitor session in 2008 has increased by 14% to 11 minutes and 23 seconds from 10 minutes in 2007, says web measurement firm Hitwise.

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