January 1, 2011, 12:00 AM

Top-line design

A preview of themes and exhibitors at the upcoming Internet Retailer Web Design & Usability conference.

Lead Photo

Shoppers are back, and buying more than ever on the web and through mobile phones. That’s good news for online retailers, but it also means they have a lot of work to do.

It means making sure their e-commerce sites are designed to rank high in search engine results, that sites are appealing and easy to navigate, and that they load quickly so frustrated consumers won’t click away. And they have to figure out how to integrate social network links into their site design, and to address the growing opportunity of mobile commerce.

There’s much to learn about each of those tasks, and the speed of web and mobile evolution means what e-retailers knew last year may be largely obsolete. The mission of the Internet Retailer Web Design & Usability Conference is to provide a single venue where online retailers can get up to speed on all these questions.

The fourth annual Internet Retailer Web Design and Usability Conference will take place Feb. 14-16 at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress in Orlando, and will feature 43 expert speakers and an exhibit hall where 50 companies will display their technology and services. In addition, each attendee will be entitled to two free prearranged 30-minute consultations, choosing among 24 participating web design experts.

This is the only e-commerce show focused solely on web site design and usability, and Internet Retailer publisher Jack Love calls it his favorite e-retailing event. “It’s the one where I learn the most about what I am certain is the single most important ingredient in a successful retail web site—a design that uses the latest market intelligence, proven techniques and the newest tools to make a web site easier to find, navigate and submit orders.”

Retailers speaking at the event will describe a wide range of strategies for engaging web shoppers. For some retailers, that’s meant a thorough overhaul of an e-commerce site, as in the case of multichannel home improvement retailer Home Depot, which unveiled a new site design last year that features deeper content, easier navigation and faster shopping options.

Hal Lawton, president of Home Depot Online, will describe the retailer’s strategy, and the results it’s achieved, in a keynote address. “Visitors are coming to HomeDepot.com for help with solving a problem and quickly shopping for what they need at very competitive prices,” Lawton says. “The new design makes it easier to do that.”

Quick fixes

But not every e-retailer has the time or money for a complete redesign. For those looking for easy but effective upgrades, there will be a session entitled “10 simple things you can do next week to boost your conversion rates,” presented by Reid Greenberg, director of e-commerce and direct channels at web and catalog retailer Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. Among his tips: bigger buy buttons, eliminating required registration and moving calls to action above the fold.

“If you are looking for quick wins that will move the conversion needle on your web site, this session is for you,” Greenberg says.

For retailers not sure whether it’s time for a site overhaul, Timothy Peterson, vice president of marketing at NutraOrigin, an online retailer of nutritional supplements, will discuss the costs and benefits of a redesign in a session entitled “Costing out a web site redesign.”

“What’s the return on an e-commerce site redesign? How do you know what the priorities are? I will share examples to help you decide how much you can spend and how much you can expect in return,” says Peterson, who has worked on several e-commerce site redesigns.

In and out

Sessions during the pre-conference workshop on Monday, Feb. 14, and the two-day main conference that follows will also deal with two major priorities of retail site design: making sure a site achieves high search engine rankings that bring in traffic and enable visitors who arrive at the site to find what they’re looking for easily.

Any site design should take into account the search engine crawlers that index a retail site, says Mark Carson, vice president of marketing at eCampus.com, who will speak in a session entitled “Joined at the hip: Site design and search engine rankings,” Carson says. “Think of the crawler as one of the customers your designer wants to please most.” That means, he says, eliminating unnecessary Flash elements that crawlers can’t see and enriching a site with blogs and product-specific keywords that search engines value.

Once a consumer arrives at a retail site, there are many paths he can take. Furniture retailer Carolina Rustica recently redesigned its site navigation after studying shopper behavior. President Richard Sexton will describe how his team reworked pathways to accommodate both customers focused on design and those searching for specific brands.

“We as marketers need to get inside the heads of our customers to figure out what works for the majority of them,” Sexton says.

That’s especially true when designing mobile retail sites where speed and convenience are critical, says Jo Benson, chief operations officer at Vortx Inc., an e-commerce technology provider, who will speak in a session entitled “Mobile: Step by step through a mobile site design.” She will walk conference attendees through an actual mobile site design and explain the decisions required along the way. “My presentation will use real, live examples to press home the power of conscious mobile design,” Benson says.

Like mobile commerce, social commerce is an important new arena for retailers seeking to reach the millions who visit social networks like Facebook and Twitter daily. How to produce measurable return on investment will be the focus of a presentation called “What it takes to make social media initiatives succeed” by Justin Perdue, web manager for neckwear manufacturer and retailer Beau Ties Ltd. Perdue will share what his company tried and tested, where it started and why, and how its social strategy evolved.

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