August 5, 2004, 12:00 AM

When the web is a major channel, usability is crucial, Lillian Vernon says

Its web site is crucial to Lillian Vernon’s success and as a result, the company spends a lot of time managing the site’s usability, Jonathan Shapiro, president of Lillian Vernon, told the eTail 2004 East conference this week.


Its web site is crucial to Lillian Vernon’s success and as a result, the company spends a lot of time managing the site’s usability, Jonathan Shapiro, president of Lillian Vernon Corp., told attendees at the eTail 2004 East conference in Fort Lauderdale, FL, Tuesday morning.

Lillian Vernon, which obtains about a third of its sales from its web site, delivers 80 million page views a year, serves 20 million online customers and fulfills 1-2 million online orders, Shapiro said. “Clearly, the online channel is a big part of delivering the value promise, the service promise and the quality promise of our brand,” he said. “Usability builds brands, but building a usable site is not easy.”

The key elements to usability, according to Shapiro, are:
--Decide who you want to serve, segment customers and prioritize them. “You can’t serve everyone well,” he said.
--Align and prioritize goals, since there are so many things that online retailers still need to do.
--Design for continuous improvement.

In segmenting customers, Shapiro said, the keys are recency/frequency/monetary value, attitudes, channel preferences and customer potential.

In aligning and prioritizing goals, Shapiro said, a retailer must decide what it wants to make easy to use and must align its goals with the customers’ goals. Among the goals a retailer could pursue online are driving sales, marketing a brand, testing new products, capturing e-mail addresses and performing customer service. “Help the customer help you,” he said, urging attendees to make the experience “highly valuable to your customers so they can help you to reach your business goals.”

Usability is a never-ending process. “Usability is a journey, not a destination,” he said. “Your goals change, your customers’ goals change, the competitive bar keeps rising.”

To make it all work, Shapiro noted that online retailers need to adopt direct marketers’ ability to measure results. The steps to that goal are to build a test engine, adopt best practices for testing, develop the test, “rinse and repeat,” he said.

An interesting result that Lillian Vernon, No. 65 in Internet Retailer’s Top 300 Guide to online web sites, experienced was in an e-mail test of return addresses and subject lines. Shapiro recounted that Lillian Vernon was sending e-mail promotions that had Lillian Vernon in both the return address and in the subject line. Marketing managers believed that the mention of the company in the subject line was repetitive, so they ran a test with the name in the return address and not in the subject line. “Response rates went up 35%,” Shapiro reported. But he cautioned that, without the ability to measure results, the company would never have known. “You’ve got to be able to do serious statistical analysis,” he said.


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