August 28, 2003, 12:00 AM

The New Look

(Page 2 of 3)

New sections on the home page include a list of self-service links, such as for tracking orders and checking the availability of rebates; and a research center, including links titled “Which Intel Notebook is right for you?” and “Guide to Lynksys wireless networking.” The questions pertain to items for sale in an adjacent section, and they change periodically to a new list of topics related to a new list of items for sale. For now, Best Buy staffers change the suggestions manually; they are working on an automatic rotation, the company reports. Other home page links take shoppers to the Reward Zone loyalty program and a section for purchasing gift cards. “With the relaunch, customers can now take advantage of the same financing and promotional offers, along with an expanded assortment of products, in whatever channel they choose,” Judge says.

Big, speedy images at Macy’s

While Best Buy undertook a complete redesign, has taken a fine-tuning approach. One of the first retail web sites for a major retail department store chain, has redesigned its pages to place text links more strategically as well as to emphasize larger and more prominent product images.

The redesign, which was done in-house, emphasizes more images as opposed to text links on the home page, while emphasizing both images as well as text links on product and category pages. made the changes after analyzing shopping behavior to learn the type of images and promotional presentations that led to the highest add-to-bag and sales conversion results. “For example, we learned that customers do not value text links on our home page, but do respond to specific offers in text format at the category level,” Anderson says.

The 10 product category sections across the top of the home page each includes several text links such as “Bonus roaster with George Forman grill purchase” in the housewares category. But each category also features several high-resolution photographs that can be enlarged multiple times with a new multi-directional zoom feature from TrueSpectra Inc. “We have learned that compelling creative drives more conversion, so the re-design of the category pages took that into account,” Anderson says.

But even with all the additional imaging, speed has not become an issue, he says. “We’re making a major investment in a coding effort to assure the speed of our site,” Anderson says. “ is one of the fastest web sites in its category.”

Servers in strategic locations

The retailer is also working with Akamai Technologies Inc. to deliver pages faster through strategically placed web servers, providing better access for consumers regardless of where they’re located, Anderson says. “We know that in certain parts of the country-Phoenix is a good example-our customers’ online shopping experience is slower than in New York or San Francisco due to their local access to the web and where we locate our servers,” he says.

A test of the Akamai service during last year’s Christmas holiday season found that it enabled consumers to download pages faster. “Response time in getting product pages from the web was substantially improved,” Anderson says. “At the same time, our conversion rate and sales increased substantially over the prior year’s holiday season.”

Anderson says he expects web site speed to improve throughout the U.S., leading to increased sales as customers experience faster and easier online shopping-even with the increased emphasis on larger images and zoom technology. “We know over a period of time we’ll get more sales from Phoenix,” he says. l

Using metrics to understand customers’ needs

Sometimes customers tell a retailer what they’re thinking without even knowing it. It’s called metrics. That’s how Tower Records learned what it needed to do at, Kevin Ertell, senior vice president, direct to consumer, told the eTail 2003 East conference in Boston last month. “There’s too much staff conjecture about what works,” Ertell said.

And so Ertell ran tests in three areas of to determine how well the site converted browsers to buyers. “Science beats conjecture every time,” he said.

Using Fireclick Inc.’s NetFlame product to take a close look at the site, Tower learned customers weren’t clicking where it wanted them to. A home page cluttered with up to 15 promotions was confusing. Tower Records cleaned up the page to highlight only a few major promotions, made images smaller and easier to load and moved a major promotion to the page’s center. The result: the major promotion garnered 9.4% of the traffic vs. 0.4% pre-redesign, conversion rates went up 25%, page load times decreased by 38%.

Next, managers turned to the checkout page, using NetFlame to understand how customers navigated the page and Webhancer to collect data from 15,000 users at and two competing sites. The registration page popped up as an area of concern. A site that explained why registration was important had an exit rate of 5.7% and dwell time of 46.27 seconds. The exit rate at a site with little explanation was 11.6%, with a dwell time of 36.14 seconds. Tower Records’ was 8%, with customers lingering for 29.98 seconds. Conversion rates showed equal disparity: 3.88% and 2.26% at the other sites; 2.5% at Tower.

At checkout, things were equally grim. “Tower was the poorest performer of the three,” Ertell said. Tower reduced the number of checkout pages from five to three and removed all images so pages would load faster. It also increased the explanation of the value of registration. Results: in one week, conversion rates went up 18% and abandonment rates went down 12%, Ertell reported.

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