January 22, 2009, 12:00 AM

Brand and multiple audiences drive site design at Scholastic.com

A new initiative at Scholastic.com positions it to grow sales among parents while keeping teachers in the loop, says Judy Newman, president of Scholastic Book Clubs.

With more than 100 million books sold per year, Scholastic Books sells more children’s books than any other U.S. bookseller, but like every other retailer it’s still looking for growth. The 60-year-old company is looking to the web as a key driver, with site improvements and a site design that must juggle the different needs of its target audience of teachers, students and parents, said Judy Newman, president of Scholastic Book Clubs, in a session at the Internet Retailer Web Design ’09 Conference this week.

Teachers, for example, historically depended on a printed order form to relay orders from students, for which teachers receive rewards points. Scholastic put that order form online 10 years ago but recently updated it to help drive sales by making the ordering process even easier for teachers, while staying focused on that audience’s requirements.

That meant the redesign bypassed extensive use of rich media while still updating and streamlining pages. “Teachers don’t have a lot of time to go through a lot of rich media,” Newman said. At the same time, the redesign gave teachers tools to encourage sales; for instance, giving them the ability to customize their own home page on the site so it displays grade-appropriate products. The site also provides more information about products; for example, a “peek inside” feature replicates a sample of a book’s inside pages, including the actual type size, an important distinguishing feature of children’s books.

Newman said Scholastic’s top initiative for growth currently is encouraging purchases from parents. Previously, Scholastic could reach parents only through printed order forms distributed to teachers and then sent home with students; but now it’s connecting with parents directly and allowing them to buy on the web site.

However, teachers remain in control of the process and able to get credit for purchases by their students’ parents on Scholastic.com. Scholastic’s site accomplishes this by equipping teachers online with templates of letters they can customize and send to parents in printed form or by e-mail, inviting parents to buy online and giving them the teacher’s code to enter at the time of purchase. Parents also have the option of creating a customized page on the site similar to teachers’ pages, which will display grade-specific products and information.

“Customers’ needs keep changing,” Newman said of Scholastics’ site. “It’s a constant work in progress and communicating with our customers helps us learn every day.”

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