September 21, 2004, 12:00 AM

As the holidays approach, online retailers still scrambling to prepare

Some e-retailers are set with new site features for the holidays, while the tweaking continues at others. A retrospective look from 37Signals at what retailers have done to prepare sites for the holidays shows some ideas are better than others.


The fourth quarter is right around the corner. And while holiday-focused features and tools are ready for release on some larger sites, editing, fixing and even adding features that don’t require big lead times continues at others, according to Chicago-based web design and usability firm 37Signals. “The truth is there is still a lot of scrambling,” Matt Linderman, usability expert, tells Internet Retailer.


37Signals visited hundreds of e-commerce sites during the last two holiday seasons and collected what it considers the best ideas on holiday feature execution on its web site. Based on 37Signals` observation of the past two years, Linderman says one of the top considerations for e-retailers’ success this season relates to how they present shipping information. “Come the holidays, the number one thing online shoppers want to know is when they will have to order by to get it there in time,” he says.

One of the best ideas the design firm found on shipping information delivery is presenting it in a timeline or calendar format–like has-vs. putting those dates in a static block of text or banner. “The calendar is an interface people are used to working with. It presents the information visually in a way people clearly understand so they can know when their deadlines are,” say Linderman.

A holiday feature that still needs work on many sites is one of the most popular at holiday time. Linderman calls gift-finders “a great first step, but some aren’t as thorough as they could be.”

One of the best approaches to gift-finders is to configure them so as to allow shoppers to narrow the search according to multiple parameters, he says. Nordstrom’s gift-finder last holiday, for example, let shoppers start their gift search by choosing “gifts for him” or "gifts for her,” then narrowing their choices further by specifying lifestyle factors and a price range.

“Most sites will only let you choose from one of those three things. A lot of sites make the mistake of thinking the more things they offer, the better. But when you are shopping for that gift in a rush, you don’t want hundreds of choices,” Linderman says. “Narrowing results in that way is a lot more likely to get people the results they are looking for.”


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