February 18, 2002, 12:00 AM

Macys.com: Where lower store traffic means better sales

Traffic to Macys.com declined during the holiday shopping period--but it was by plan. Conversion rates grew 125% and sales by 80% as Macys.com focused on qualified buyers--not just visitors.

In the holiday shopping season just past, Macys.com had fewer visits to its web site than it experienced during the same period in 2000, at first blush an indication that the site is headed in the wrong direction. But Gene Domecus, senior vice president of Macys.com, told attendees at the eTail 2002 conference last week that eyeballs are not nearly as important as wallets. “We planned on less traffic at the site this season,” said Domecus.

That meant cutting sweepstakes that lured visitors, not buyers, and it meant thinning the ranks of the chain’s affiliate programs to eliminate other non-purchasing shoppers. Instead of gross traffic, Macys.com focused on quality traffic. “We spent the entire year trying to improve our conversion rate,” Domecus declared.

That involved setting up separate task forces to focus on improving check out, navigation, search speed and performance, merchandise availability and order status, what Domecus identified as the five most common problem areas. The chain used focus groups, web traffic analysis and common sense in completely redesigning its site to achieve improvements in all five functions. And through the redesign process it held fast to one central theme-keeping things simple. “This channel is all about speed and convenience,” said Domecus. “If you can’t get the customer out of the store quickly, you haven’t won. Price is not the driving force for success on the web.”

The result: traffic was about the only thing that declined year-over-year at Macys.com. Conversion rates soared by 125%, something Domecus argued was essential. “In this competitive market, conversion rate improvement of 25% is not good enough,” he told his audience. While average order size remained the same as last year, total sales volume at the site grew a remarkable 80%.

One other thing declined when the site added an automated system that reported on the current availability of desired merchandise and another function that allowed web customers to check on the shipping status of their order: contacts to customer service reps. “This is absolutely essential,” said Domecus. “The number one reason for customer service calls was to check on order status, something that should have been a self-service function. When we added the function, we cut our e-mail and call center traffic by two-thirds.”

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