September 6, 2005, 12:00 AM

Which site investments may promise the biggest payoff

Online retailers look to merchandising and community features to drive more frequent visits, but simply providing better product descriptions and photography can boost sales, says Fry.


Adding features such as gift reminders or community-based features such as message boards are among the ways retailers who’ve had success online are looking for more, either by expanding merchandising or attempting to drive more frequent visits to a site. But other site investments may actually provide a better payoff for site operators, say web design and usability experts.

“If I had a set amount of money to put in my site before the holidays, I’d put it into product descriptions and product photography,” says Bridget Fahrland, executive creative director of Fry Inc.’s new San Francisco office. “You hear some retailers bemoan that they don’t have the photography or the right descriptions as they are putting money into other features – but I think that is where you are really going to get more bang for your buck,” she says.

Dana Hawes-Davis, Fry’s director of user experience, adds that a fair number of retailers still don’t provide online the level of product information they should. “Whereas a retailer like Blue Nile does a really good job of providing details such as how a clasp on a bracelet might work, other retailers just say a product is cotton, for example, but don’t provide any washing or care instructions,” she says. Spending more time on providing product details, clearly exposing return and privacy policies, and other site features don’t necessarily require expensive implementations, but they can produce results because they build customer trust, according to Hawes-Davis.


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