In spite of the recession, more than three in five web retailers redesigned all or part of their web sites in 2009. And with an economic recovery under way, web retailers are planning to embark on further improving their sites to make them faster, quicker and easier for customers to shop. Retailers are focused on such improvements as search engine optimization, site organization and navigation, as well as planning to add a few advanced bells and whistles like video streaming and community features.
These are some of the conclusions of a recent Internet Retailer survey of 404 web-only retailers, chain retailers, catalogers and consumer brand manufacturers.
The survey finds that while 22.3% of survey respondents say they deferred a web site redesign in 2009 because of the economy, 66.5% say they plan to embark on a redesign in 2010.
Those results reflect a pent-up demand for redesign projects caused by the recession, some web site redesign experts say.
"We went through a nuclear winter where no one knew how bad things would get," says Tom Nawara, managing director of digital strategy and design at e-commerce and m-commerce consulting firm Acquity Group LLC. "As the economy opens up a bit, retailers can begin to look at the goals they put on hold or that they barely eked away at."
Those goals mainly revolve around increasing sales. 50.5% of the respondents say they plan to redesign to boost sales, 50% say they want to generate higher sales conversion rates, and 48% say they want to attract new visitors and shoppers.
The easiest way to achieve those goals, says Nawara, is improving the site`s "shopability." "It`s important to increase the ease of doing business," he says. "Shopability can mean anything from how the site is laid out to changing or developing its content to introducing structural elements like one-page checkout."
According to the Internet Retailer survey of IRNewsLink e-newsletter readers conducted this fall with e-mail marketing and survey firm Vovici Corp., 43.7% of respondents say their top priorities include better organized and updated home, category and product pages; 40.2% say better search engine optimization; 31.7% clearer navigation; 30% speedier and more intuitive site search; 28.3% faster checkout; 27.8% more community features; and 25.6% bigger and clearer images.
"Those priorities are driven by return on investment," says Chris Hauca, vice president of Acquity Group. Beyond the nuts and bolts elements of a redesign, retailers are also looking to add advanced features and functions, many of which may have been part of their plans for the last year, but got pushed aside for more pressing needs, says Hauca.
The survey found 33.2% of respondents say they plan to add video or streaming media; 32.9% customer reviews and ratings; 27.3% blogs or forums; 25.9% personalized product recommendations; 24.1% advanced search; and 19% a community element.
Sense of community
"Social media is obviously a huge thing that increases the stickability around a site," says Nawara. "A number of retailers, particularly in fashion, face the challenge of how to keep their user content current when their products change over time."
For instance, reviews written about fall sweaters will no longer be on the site once the spring line arrives. "Creating a community can help fix these challenges by creating a different area for engagement. It can even augment some of the content previously delegated to catalogs and merchandise in the context of the wider site," Nawara says.
With 26% of respondents noting they already have communities and 43.5% saying they plan to add a community within the next year, more retailers are convinced these online forums represent a previously unseen opportunity to engage consumers, says Hauca.
"There`s a realization that there is an opportunity there, particularly for retailers at bigger volumes," he says. "If creating a community can move your conversion rate a hundredth of a point, that`s probably enough."
However, among the retailers that say they offer an online community, there is little consensus about what community features to offer. The survey found that 12.4% offer profiles of community members; 11.5% discussion boards; 9.5% picture uploading; 8.8% retailer blogs; 8.3% linking with friends; 7.3% messaging with friends; 6.8% wish lists; 6.6% customer blogs; and 4.9% video uploading.
"There`s no one-size-fits-all solution," says Nawara. "Retailers need to identify the features that best fit their customer base."
For many merchants, the rapidly emerging arena of mobile commerce represents another key redesign focus. 21.9% say they plan to add a mobile commerce web site within the next year. Meanwhile, 10% of respondents say they already have an m-commerce web site and 38.5% of those say their mobile site is significantly different from their e-commerce site.
In some cases, retailers` growing penchant for developing mobile sites or apps—small e-commerce programs designed for particular smartphones like the iPhone or Blackberry—represent a departure from their focus on return on investment, or ROI, for design projects, says Craig Smith, founder and managing director of Trinity Insight LLC, an e-commerce consulting and services firm that specializes in site design, testing and analysis.
"Almost every executive I talk to wants an iPhone app and wants to know how to optimize for iPhones," he says. "But I think an investment in an iPhone app has to make sense, which it will for some retailers, but not for all."
One reason for Smith`s skepticism is that he doesn`t believe many consumers will pay with a credit card using a mobile phone. But he believes there are ways of working around that problem. For instance, Amazon.com Inc.`s app allows a user to log in to his existing account, which is already linked to his payment information. Another solution, he says, is for retailers to promote apps primarily as research tools that will lead to purchases later—either online or in a store.
Most Internet retailers` own personnel are heavily involved in site redesigns. The survey finds that of the retailers planning redesigns in 2010, 45.8% will have their internal staff handle the entire overhaul. Another 36.9% will have their own staffers work with either their current, or a new, outside agency.