January 25, 2011, 11:45 AM

Why Web Stores Always Need Remodeling

To succeed online, e-retailers must do that which is totally foreign to bricks-and-mortar retailing: redesign their web stores at least once a year.

There are many differences between bricks-and-mortar stores and retail web sites, but in my mind the one difference e-retailers should recognize as foremost is this: web stores must always be redesigned in order to achieve sales growth.

That’s not true in the offline world, where stores can be built with proven designs and, with the exception of seasonal refreshing of merchandising displays, not require a major redesign for years. Take that approach with a retail web site, and before long you’ll be kissing your e-retailing business good-bye.

Why? Internet Retailer’s February Edition cover story highlights one major reason, namely that e-retailers must meet the needs of consumers who are using an ever changing array of computer devices designed to access the web, the latest being the millions of tablet computers that have been sold since Apple introduced its hot-selling iPad last April. Yet, this is merely the latest technological phenomenon that’s rewriting the web design playbook. The incredible rise of Facebook and Twitter required retail web site designers to rearrange the look, feel and functionality of their retail sites. And the growing use of video has had a similarly profound impact on retail web designs.

What’s more, these are just the sweeping technological changes. Hundreds of design refinements are made by high-achieving e-retail web sites every year, and many of them yield significant improvements in conversion rates for those pioneering new designs. As these new and better design practices metastasize to the broader e-retailing industry, they contribute to the industry’s overall performance.

Still, the e-retailing industry converts less than 5% of retail web site visitors to buyers, which means that web merchants still have much to learn from their collective experience with web designs. The fact is that potential buyers are still abandoning web sites in droves because they can’t find fast enough what the merchant is selling, or because the check-out process is too cumbersome, or because the site’s design has not captured the browser’s imagination. There are hundreds of reasons shoppers abandon web sites, but there are also hundreds of design solutions that fix those problems.

To make matters even more challenging for e-retailers, web shoppers are becoming a more demanding lot all the time. So, while last year’s redesign worked great last year, it may not satisfy the needs of today’s online shoppers who have lately become accustomed to even better designed sites of competitors.

In short, fix it and forget it just doesn’t cut it when it comes to web design. This need for e-retailers to continually modify the designs of their web sites to keep pace with the evolving rules of good design is why each February we hold the Internet Retailer Web Design & Usability Conference, the 4th annual edition of which is being held February 14-16 at the Hyatt Grand Cyprus Resort in Orlando, Florida.

We are anticipating another good turnout, perhaps a record for this event. If you haven’t registered, you can still do so at IRWD2011.com, the show’s web site that provides complete details on everything this conference offers its attendees—43 expert speakers, two free 30-minute private consultations with top retail web designers, 50 exhibits of web design solution providers and plenty of opportunities to exchange design ideas with fellow web merchants.

This isn’t our largest e-commerce show (IRCE 2011 in San Diego will draw more than 7,000 attendees) because it focuses only on web design issues. Yet, it’s our highest rated event in post-conference attendee surveys, because e-retailers inevitably report that what they learned at IRWD translated into higher conversion rates. That’s the outcome of better web designs, and it’s the goal of this conference. I hope to see you at IRWD 2011 in Orlando.

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