February 16, 2011, 3:23 PM

Low-cost resources can have a high impact on e-retailer sites

Web designers present low-cost alternatives to costly web add-ons.

Lead Photo

Larry Becker

If an e-retailer is leery about the cost of adding functionality to his site, two web design experts say a lot of functions can be added at low cost, or even for free. Larry Becker, principal at Larry Becker Web, and Judy Foster, executive creative director at Grand River Interactive, told attendees at the Internet Retailer Web Design & Usability Conference today that quite often there’s a low-cost alternative to costly add-ons.

For example, an e-retailer that wants to add a zoom function to product images can use Adobe Scene7, which can be costly, or try the free JQZoom. If video is the e-retailer’s aim, he can just let YouTube host the videos and embed the videos on the site, rather than try to build and host an independent video library, Foster said.

But Becker and Foster caution that just because a tool is free or low in cost doesn’t mean that an e-retailer should use it. They said that an e-retailer should thoroughly evaluate his site before deciding to add any technology. Becker recommended conducting a survey of site visitors. “Many of us are focused on measuring behaviors using analytics, which provides rich data but is incomplete,” he said. “We have to measure the experience and ask the questions: What is the purpose of your visit to our web site today? Were you able to complete your task? If no, why not?”

Once an e-retailer understands consumers’ answers, he can create a short list of technologies that may whether he can get by with tweaks or needs a complete site overhaul, Foster said. “If you’ve gone through the discovery phase, you’ll know if you just paint or really renovate your site,” she said. “If your site is generally working fine, then you can decide what you want to improve on or enhance. You have unlimited options on what you can do.”

For example, if improving customer communication options is important, Foster suggested an array of vendors that provide low-cost live chat tools. Or, if an e-retailer wants to convert more sales over the phone, he can prominently display his toll-free number on the home page.

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