January 29, 2010, 12:00 AM

SPONSORED SUPPLEMENT: Site design from the customer`s point of view

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Recognizing the growing importance of the social web, ForeSee Results has begun surveying consumers after they complete a purchase, or when they are about to abandon an e-retailer`s site, about the influence social media sites had on their decision to visit that site.

Recent surveys conducted for the 40 largest online retailers revealed that opinions expressed on social media sites directly influenced 4% of respondents to visit those sites. Consumers were also asked what they think of the retailer`s site experience.

"The percentage of customers coming to the sites because of word of mouth through social media is not high, but it helps these retailers put into perspective the extent social media is influencing their customers` decisions to come to their site," says Freed. "As the reach of social media grows, the best way to find out what influence it is having on consumer opinions is to ask the consumer directly." ForeSee Results averages response rates between 6% and 9% and collects more than 1 million consumer surveys per month.

A prom page on Facebook
While still a relatively minor source of traffic to e-retail sites, there is no denying that social media is becoming a major source of information for consumers. This trend is prompting many retailers to participate in social networks to be part of that information exchange-and that, too, involves design decisions.

For example, Ai last year created a Facebook fan page for clothier Cache.com prior to prom season. The fan page featured high school girls identified by Cache.com through focus groups talking about the dresses they planned to wear to prom and how they intended to accessorize their outfits. Each product mentioned had a link back to Cache.com. As part of selecting which girls to feature, Cache.com researched the size of each candidate`s social network and their influence within that community.

"Every social network has key influencers and there are opportunities for retailers to catalyze their opinions," says Ai`s Levine. "The key is to identify and reach the people that have influence within their social network."

A social network presence can help drive traffic back to a retailer`s site-and retailers want to be sure consumers see fresh and compelling content when they arrive. With e-commerce sites constantly changing and improving, retailers are continually faced with the question of when to redesign a web site. The rule of thumb has been to redesign the site every two to three years, but with consumer expectations about the online shopping experience constantly evolving, retailers are finding their site designs must keep pace.

"Smaller changes that are implemented on a regular basis can keep the site fresh and prevent customers from having to learn how to use all new features and navigation paths at once," says Schmelkin.

And by taking the time to learn what their customers expect from the site experience, retailers can identify features and functionality that not only bring a site alive, but help shoppers achieve their goals quickly and easily.

"When retailers understand their customers` intent," Freed says, "they create a design and usability strategy that prevents their site from becoming static and that consistently pleases their customers."

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