January 30, 2003, 12:00 AM

Designing by the Numbers

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Analytics also showed that while visitors were bypassing the offers, they were flocking to search. 65% of home page visitors went directly to the keyword search function, a greater number than Tower had estimated. “We knew it was high, but we had thought there was more browsing,” Ertell says.

Tower used the data in a redesign. The search box was placed more prominently on the left side of the page to draw even more initial clicks when visitors landed on the home page, and a much larger block of real estate immediately to its right, in the middle of the page, was devoted to promotions. “We wanted to make the promotions bigger and more obvious so you couldn’t possibly miss them, even if you were going to the site to search for a specific item,” Ertell says. Since the change was made in October, Ertell says clicks on the featured promotions have risen from an average of less than 1% to 10% to 15%, with sales on those products increasing correspondingly.

Though he adds that most of the data supplied by the analytics tools could have been pieced together from Tower’s internal monitoring, it was easier and less time-consuming to identify in the reporting delivered via analytics. “The picture was worth a thousand words,” he says.

At cataloger and web retailer Hanover Direct Inc., the company’s six major brands have been using Coremetrics Inc.’s Marketforce analytics for the past three years, and the tool drove much of the redesign of its Domestications brand’s home page last year.

“We used a lot of quantitative data from Coremetrics to help the designers in their decisions on what the pages should look like,” says Jonathan Kapplow, Hanover’s marketing manager. “Domestications is mostly soft goods but it has a very deep product base, so figuring out how to categorize it all so as to require a minimal number of clicks to convert was a real challenge. We used Coremetrics to run a lot of historical analysis to determine what categories should be on the home page, how they should look, what they should drill down to and what items should be placed next to others for cross selling.”

While a single change can produce an impressive double-digit increase, retailers aren’t ignoring the cumulative effect of smaller changes suggested by new analytic data-such as Overstock’s pursuit of a .05% increase in conversions. Site improvements that can tip the scale for even a few customers hanging in the balance over a purchase decision add up over time.

While Proflowers got a significant boost from its optimized superpage, for example, it’s also used analytics to drill down deep into customers’ on-site behavior to change details that benefit conversion. When analytic reports revealed that 96% of visitors were JavaScript-enabled, Proflowers optimized the site with features for that customer segment. Those visitors, for example, can select from a previous recipient list to automatically populate name and address fields without having to click additional buttons. “The site works perfectly well for those without JavaScript, but visitors who have it get an even better user experience,” Hannah says.

Photo site Image-Edit.com likewise fine-tuned its home page based on analytics and realized a small but measurable sales increase as a direct result. After it altered its home page to give some of its lesser-used products bigger play, based on data from NetIQ Corp.’s WebTrends analytics reporting, Image-Edit.com saw interest in those services increase almost immediately.

Restoration of old family snapshots is the most used service on Image-Edit.com. Customers scan the photo, either at home, or at a retail camera store that offers the service, and the file is transmitted digitally online to Image-Edit.com for service. The enhanced image file is sent back digitally to the store for printing and pickup, or to the customer’s home computer, where it can be loaded onto a disk and taken to a photo processor of the customer’s choice.

Though photo restoration is the most popular service, Image-Edit.com also lists 16 other photo editing procedures on the site that weren’t getting as much customer attention. “The question was, if we highlight another service, will that make visitors interested enough to check it out,” says Aaron Daru, vice president of operations.

Image-Edit.com put that to the test in June with its Hollywood glamorization service, an image-enhancing process that makes Hollywood-style glamour shots out of basic photos. It opened up a fourth of its home page real estate to highlight a rotating roster of services, with the glamorization service rotated in frequently. Analytic reporting showed that clicks on the service rose to 4% of visitors from less than 1% almost immediately, says Daru, with sales of the service increasing at the same rate.

New level of science

When Hanover questioned the use of a single tiny piece of real estate on its brands’ home pages, Coremetrics’ analytics tool supplied a definitive answer. Like many retail sites, Hanovers’ home pages have a tell-a-friend feature, a small box located on the left side just under the navigational bar. “We realized that this was pretty expensive real estate and we wondered, does this really work,” says Kapplow. “Unless we had an analytics product, we would never have known how many people use it. We probably would have pulled it from the site, but analytics told us there was a nice demand driven from it.”

The data to be gleaned from analytics tools are bringing a new level of science to site design and management decisions that until lately have depended on conventional wisdom, aesthetics, or gut instinct. It’s a speedier and increasingly more precise take on how marketing, merchandising and customer service decisions are supported in the offline world.

“Certainly, when you change anything on the web site you have to back up what you do,” says Kapplow. “In our catalog business, people do page analysis by the square inch to understand the effects of the tiniest change. The web is becoming more like that in that every little thing you do on the page has a dollar ramification attached to it.”

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