June 2, 2006, 12:00 AM

Benchmark Brands gets back to basics

Benchmark Brands is finding even simple changes to the shopping cart and product pages can result in big gains in sales and customer satisfaction.

Benchmark Brands is getting back to the basics and in the process finding that even simple changes can result in big gains in sales and customer satisfaction.

It’s been a busy 18 months for Benchmark Brands, No. 216 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide to Retail Web Sites. Spurred by more search engine marketing, Benchmark Brands, which owns and operates Footsmart.com, enjoyed record holiday sales of $5 million, an increase of almost 80% from holiday sales of about $2.77 million in 2004. The company also launched a new catalog and e-commerce site, WalkSmart.com, in April, and hired a new vice president of Internet marketing in March.

In conjunction with adding more personnel and expanding its direct marketing base, Benchmark Brands also is looking at e-commerce fundamentals in an effort to improve customer service and sales conversions. “We are doing a lot of basic blocking and tackling,” says William R. May, who joined the company in March as vice president of Internet marketing.

Benchmark Brands now is using a web analytics package from Coremetrics Inc. to spot and take action on page errors. For instance, Benchmark Brands recently modified its shopping cart pages to make it easier for customers to enter their credit card security code, the three-digit code on the back of the card that helps establish and maintain a cardholder’s identity and prevent unauthorized access. During the checkout process, Benchmark Brands was receiving page error reports that indicated shoppers were abandoning their shopping cart because they were having difficulty entering all of their credit card information.

As a result Benchmark Brands studied the error message reports, made some slight page adjustments and saw error reduction and a subsequent sales conversion rate increase by about 30%. “The error reports told us there was a trend of people having difficulty entering their credit card information,” May says. “We now read those reports weekly and take action when necessary.”

Another back-to-basics step Benchmark Brands is undertaking is more closely looking at transactional data and customer purchase patterns to improve cross-selling. When a customer clicks on a product page, the additional merchandise on each page now is highlighted or replaced based on more specific customer behavior. “We are getting much more rigorous with data analysis to improve cross-selling,” May says. “It’s not sexy looking at shopping cart and transaction data, but the information is helping us lift sales and increase conversions.”

As it readies for the 2006 holiday shopping season, Benchmark Brands will once more increase its use of basic search engine marketing principles, May says. Paying more attention to fundamentals is paying dividends for Benchmark Brands. The company is on track to grow its web sales by around $41 million, an increase of almost 50% from web sales of $27.5 million in 2005, the company says.

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