September 30, 2003, 12:00 AM

The new realism of web site design

(Page 3 of 3)

From now on, designers’ jobs will only get harder, most observers say. For one thing, there’s the phenomenon of rising expectations. A marketing executive of one online retailer recounts how excited he was when his site installed a guided search and navigation function, by which merchandisers can show customers the products they want to promote within the context of search results. The technology returned not just lists of results, but thumbnails of products artfully arranged on the page. When he showed it to his wife, her response was, “So what?” His spouse was an avid online shopper herself and the cutting-edge approach was nothing more than she thought web sites were already capable of.

But looming even more important is the spread of broadband Internet access. “Broadband raises the bar,” Fry says. “It requires more product shots, zoom capability so you can see textures of a fabric, say, and more product comparison tools.” Says Burke: “Broadband at home is huge and it’s gaining at record rates.”

If designers start creating sites that show a preference for broadband use rather than narrowband, then it may be back to the drawing boards for all retail web sites.

Don’t forget the multi-channel shopper

In designing web sites, retailers need to keep multi-channel shoppers in mind-they use the site and, even if they don’t buy online, they are more important than the single-channel shoppers who do their research and purchasing online. “The multi-channel customer spends 30% to 40% more than the single channel customer,” says Greg Sweeney, vice president and general manager of direct marketing for Brookstone Inc. “50% of site traffic ends up going to the store.”

For that reason, making sure customers know they are shopping online at the same Brookstone that operates stores is important. “We try to be consistent from an integrated brand point of view,” Sweeney says.

While the importance of multi-channel customers has been widely known for at least two years, retailers are finally getting around to consciously making the multi-channel experience a part of their web site design, designers say. “More people are dedicating infrastructure and investments to multi-channel,” says David Fry, president of design firm Fry Inc.

One of the most important approaches to the multi-channel market that retailers are taking is store pick up and return of orders. “In-store return is becoming de rigueur and pick-up is at 40%; that eventually will be a must-have,” Fry says.

Further, retailers are tying their customer identification and loyalty programs across channels. “People are less and less patient with loyalty programs available in only one channel,” Fry says. “The airlines have nailed this but retailers still have quite a way to go.”

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