July 27, 2006, 12:00 AM

Flying Carpets

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“In the end we trademarked our site search with the name Rugs Directory,” Kremer adds, “which is an effort to brand the database search so that shoppers hopefully will become more familiar with the functionality and remember it by name.”

Before going live five months ago, the company created a parallel development e-commerce site for testing. It conducted I.T. and other in-house staff testing as well as trial runs by customer focus groups. “We gave people assignments and asked them to find a specific rug to determine how many clicks they had to make to find products,” Creekmur explains. “The test where one customer using the old site gave up on the search while the customer using the new site found the rug in two clicks was very revealing-and very satisfying.”

Its biggest investment

Kremer describes the new search and navigation system as “the most significant enhancement to the Rugs Direct online store since it was developed.” It also was the greatest e-commerce investment for the company. Including research, technology and in-house staff labor, the site search project’s price tag was several hundred thousand dollars. The company declines to reveal the exact sum.

Rugs Direct is waiting until its product category’s high season, fall and winter, to formally gauge results and return on investment. The biggest factor it will use to determine success or failure will be that which drove the company to enhance site search in the first place: shopping cart abandonment. “We hope the new site search will greatly reduce the abandonment rate and lead to increased repeat business, traffic and customer satisfaction,” Kremer says, “the kind of satisfaction where people don’t even think of going anywhere else for area rugs.”

Some industry experts believe Rugs Direct’s site search effort could not have been more important. Approximately 40% of shoppers immediately use site search when they arrive at an online store; consequently, internal search functionality should be paramount for any e-retailer with a large assortment of products with numerous characteristics, says Craig Smith, founder and managing director of research firm Trinity Insight LLC.

“Rugs Direct has been effective in creating a very user-friendly process on its home page to quickly direct a shopper based on product size, color and style variables,” Smith says. “By providing this type of guiding tool in the left navigation, along with a standard search box at the top of the page, Rugs Direct caters to shoppers with varied searching preferences and shopping objectives.”

Since the March launch, the retailer has witnessed a huge improvement in search and navigation, and received plenty of positive customer feedback, says CEO David Craig. “What once took many clicks or multiple searches now only requires two or three guided clicks, enabling customers to easily find the rug they’re looking for. The Rugs Directory will help us continue to differentiate ourselves in the marketplace.”

Rugs Direct’s goal, Craig says, is to secure a 10% market share of the multi-channel area rug retail segment. “We will continue to invest in innovative software and aggressively market to the rug-buying public to achieve that goal.”

When it comes to slicing off 10% of the pie, some industry analysts think it’s well within reach, and that the e-commerce channel and advanced web technology will play the major role. The company’s 70% web sales growth speaks for itself-Rugs Direct is considerably outpacing the 25% overall e-commerce growth, says Bill Lennan, vice president and Internet analyst at Wedbush Morgan Securities Inc. “Rugs Direct is doing exceptionally well in a crowded e-commerce sector,” he says.

Just the start

And the site search investment is only the first of several web improvements the company has planned. Rugs Direct is developing a method for customers to more easily and affordably return products via the web, improving analytics capabilities, and exploring new ways to show product details, features and colors through technological innovations, Creekmur says.

“We have several initiatives on the table that will not only make shopping online more convenient but also remove impediments involving buying rugs over the Internet,” Creekmur adds. “This will continue to help set us apart and above other online flooring retailers.”

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