April 30, 2009, 12:00 AM

Refereeing a Redesign

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Some of the consumers were already Lenox customers, while others were the kind of consumers Lenox hoped to attract, such as a bride-to-be looking for china tableware. Consumers were encouraged to relax, do what they normally would when shopping online and put their “brain on speakerphone,” that is, talk about their experiences as they worked.

Lenox says it learned a lot by seeing the site through the eyes of its visitors. For example, one long-time customer who was a big fan of a particular pattern had a hard time finding all the products with that pattern that Lenox offered.

Other consumers found it difficult to sift through the site’s 5,000 products to find what they were looking for. The left-side navigation allowed consumers to click on a category such as Dining and Entertainment, and a subcategory such as Dinnerware, but the Dinnerware page the visitor saw was not entirely relevant.

For instance, someone searching in Dinnerware would still see irrelevant categories such as Collectables. Now the site has switched those left-hand categories to reflect where the consumer is, so that someone searching in Dinnerware can click on another related category, such as seasonal or fine dinnerware, and further refine her search.

Six employees worked full-time on the relaunch-three permanent staffers and three contract workers. The new site took about six months to build, Lenox says.

The go-to guy

While it’s imperative to get feedback on what customers need, it’s just as important to have a strong project manager who can make sure those needs are met on budget and on time. Many retailers say a key element to a successful redesign is giving ownership of the new site to a point person or department. It’s also essential that everyone in the company respect that decision.

“I own the web site and the marketing,” says Paul Donovan vice president of marketing for A&N; Corp., a retailer that sells high-vacuum components, such as flanges, fittings and chambers, through its web site.

But that wasn’t always the case, Donovan says. It was only when his company redesigned its e-commerce site three years ago to make it easier to navigate and buy that site responsibility shifted mainly to the marketing department. Before, the I.T. department was heavily involved in the site design and construction.

That marketing team set a new objective for the redesigned site: make it easier for shoppers to get what they need and get out. And that meant making it easy for individuals, perhaps a technician working late in a lab who needs to purchase a clamp.

“What we lacked with the first e-commerce site was a clear idea of the purpose,” Donovan says. “The information was all there, but it wasn’t easy to find and use, and the site wasn’t doing anything for us in terms of sales,” Donovan says. For example, the company paid a lot for a newsletter and a fancy About Us section that didn’t promote purchasing, he says. The goal for the new site was for someone to be able to complete a purchase in three to four clicks.

As the project lead, Donovan says at times it was tough to keep everyone focused on that goal. “The biggest friction was between myself and the head of I.T.,” Donovan says. Donavan had to keep emphasizing that his priority was to make the site easy to use and for his team to be able to make changes on the fly, not to acquire the most sophisticated technology.

While A&N; Corp. used 352 Media Group for its recent redesign, Donovan didn’t want to rely solely on an outside company’s expertise. And he wanted to save money by keeping some tasks in-house, such as some of the consulting and planning. A&N;’s redesign budget was around $50,000-a fraction of the $250,000 price tag for creating the retailer’s original site.

To help keep costs down, Donovan sent his team back to school-literally. Employees took classes in relational database design and HTML at New Horizons Computer Learning Center. “If 352 Media told us something couldn’t be done within our budget and timeframes, I wanted us to understand why,” Donovan says. “The classes helped with that.”

Outside experts can, however, play a useful role in a site redesign, Higginbotham says. For instance, they may know of a vendor who has a ready-made product that can be deployed at a lower cost than developing the same application in-house. “I prefer outsourcing or contract workers because you can draw on a lot of specialized and experienced talent in different areas,” she says.

When searching for outside help, she recommends looking for individuals with experience in site architecture and navigation, and search engine optimization-and who have demonstrated that they can stay within a budget.

Above all, retailers say, make sure everyone involved in a redesign understands one thing: It’s the customer who ultimately decides which design concepts work best.

katie@verticalwebmedia.com

Click Here for the Internet Retailer Web Design Products & Services Guide

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