January 29, 2010, 12:00 AM

The dollars are in the details

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It took web designers only about a week to create the new page templates and update the coding for the new site search box, and the relatively simple change has paid off. Since the new site search box went live in November, the rate of daily site search queries has increased 75%. Now that more visitors are using the enhanced search box to find specific brands in fewer clicks, the sale of some popular items, such as Casablanca ceiling fans, has grown by more than 25%.

"We launched the new search box and saw an immediate spike in the use of search," says Sexton. "With just that one small change, we made it easier for our older and affluent customers to shop the site."

Best practice
Regular usability reviews have been standard practice at CarolinaRustica.com for several years, and they`ve helped the retailer monitor web site performance and enhance page design, says Sexton. Frequent reviews can also help retailers avoid common mistakes that can hurt site optimization, such as title tags on merchandising pages that don`t contain a specific product name within the first 75 characters of the product description, shopping cart boxes that use a "0" as a default quantity instead of a "1" and inconsistent page navigation.

"A good design must be structured in ways that provide relevant information to users from different entry points and through different stages of the buying cycle," says Dayna Bateman, a senior strategic analyst with web site design and e-commerce application development firm Fry Inc. "Many different visitor paths lead to a product page. Regular site reviews ensure that small design issues don`t become bigger problems that can alienate shoppers and hurt sales."

A regular usability review and a willingness to remain flexible helped Onlineshoes.com to develop a more balanced approach to video production and page design. In late 2008, Onlineshoes.com created OnlineshoesTV.com as a separate web site to showcase its growing inventory of more than 200 product and education videos. But site usability reviews and a detailed analysis of web site traffic revealed that Onlineshoes.com was missing out on sales by housing videos on a dedicated site.

On OnlineshoesTV.com, shoppers could watch a video and then click on a buy button to make a purchase. But they had to leave OnlineshoesTV.com and return to Onlineshoes.com if they wanted to shop for other items, research additional products, access their account information or contact customer service.

"We were disconnected in our approach to designing video pages," says Onlineshoes.com chief marketing officer Peter Leech. "We had invested a considerable amount of time and resources in a new site to showcase our videos, but our analysis showed us that we had to be more diverse."

Location is key
To do a better job of locating videos on heavily used areas of the main site, Onlineshoes.com created a new blog-"Get in Gear"-that`s featured on its home page, and made the blog a forum for displaying new film snippets. It also redesigned the pages on OnlineshoesTV.com with a new top navigation bar that featured key merchandising categories, a more prominent site search box and labels that shoppers could click to access their accounts, track orders or contact customer service. "We didn`t reinvent the wheel, but we did balance out where we placed videos on each site," says Leech.

By designing a blog and making video a key component of the content, Onlineshoes.com has created bigger interest in its latest productions. "The video creates an interactive dialogue with the shopper and involves them in a way static content can`t," says Leech. With a better approach to design and video location, Onlineshoes.com is attracting shoppers interested in a particular brand and closing more sales, he says.

Just about 5% of all visitors to its new blog click to view videos. The conversion rate on sales made after a customer watches a product video is about 45% higher than the site`s average conversion rate. "We are finding a better return on our investment in online video," says Leech.

Such modifications to a site design can help e-retailers avoid the considerable expense of a full-scale site redesign. A big chain retailer can easily spend more than $1 million and take up to 18 months to complete a redesign that includes multiple new page treatments, universal style sheets, and sophisticated features and functions. Even a smaller merchant that uses an outside design firm to revamp an e-commerce site can expect the process to last several months and cost from $50,000 to $200,000.

A total overhaul is often unnecessary. Just making simple changes in the use of color can have a positive impact on sales, says Dorian Sweet, vice president and executive creative director of TrueAction, a web site design and interactive marketing agency that`s part of e-commerce service provider GSI Commerce Inc. For instance, using brighter colors on the Add to Cart and Checkout buttons can motivate shoppers to complete a purchase. "If all of the buttons on a product page are the same size and color, that doesn`t motivate the shopper with a clear call to action," says Sweet. "Bigger and brighter shopping cart buttons tell customers: `Step right this way for a quick and easy purchase.`"

Simple design changes, including a more colorful shopping cart button and presenting top-selling brands on landing pages, made the biggest difference in sales for Scentiments.com. As a result of its updated design, Scentiments.com has improved its conversion rate on some product pages to 1.5% from 1%, says Wyner. He expected the improved design would help Scentiments.com generate sales of about $17 million in 2009, about the same as in 2008, despite the bad economy. The recession`s silver lining for retailers like Scentiments.com may be that it forced them to pay close attention to the details of site design that can have a big impact on results.

mark@verticalwebmedia.com

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