February 28, 2007, 12:00 AM

Designs on Success

(Page 2 of 3)

More than I.T.

BestKiteboarding.com’s design team reflects another change in the industry: It’s no longer just I.T. It includes four I.T. staff members and six marketers. They use Adobe Photoshop from Adobe Systems Inc. to create designs and pages. Prior to design, company executives use traffic ranking tools from Alexa Internet Inc. to collect information on kiteboarding and water sports sites and gauge which are most liked by enthusiasts.

“Every year we decide what the vision for the site is: educating, selling, branding, etc. Once we establish that, we gather technology tools, which include NetSuite’s e-commerce and other applications,” Lawson explains. “Then we think about the market-do we want to promote these kites or those boards. And then we determine how and where image, lifestyle and educational content can help. With all that set, we lay them out online, prioritizing them according to the year’s vision, which this year is lifestyle. We give those elements the best real estate, and then everything trickles down from there.”

Lawson’s sense that BestKiteboarding.com’s current incarnation is “a little too busy” is in line with site design philosophy that seems to be growing more popular: minimalism.

“I’m a big believer in simplicity,” states Craig Smith, founder and managing director of Trinity Insight LLC, an e-commerce consulting and services firm that specializes in interactive site design and site testing and analysis. “You don’t want to cause analysis paralysis, where you give shoppers so many options. Web design should accurately portray your brand and actively tell your value proposition.”

The benefit of minimalism is that not only does it match today’s aesthetic, but it also simplifies the shopping experience. “When you look at successful e-commerce designs like Apple’s, you see it’s difficult to get confused,” says Jason Billingsley, vice president of marketing at Elastic Path Software Inc., an e-commerce platform vendor. “And if you can get across one clear message, it’s far more effective than crowding shoppers with more features and functions.”

Minimalism, though, should be driven by who an e-retailer’s customers are and what they like, cautions Lawrence of F. Curtis Barry & Co. “I’m a big believer in testing, where you have customers take a look before it’s sitewide to help you determine if a design element is doable or not,” he says. “There are some sites that have many, many click-throughs on their pages that go 100 ways to heaven and their shoppers really like that. And there are others that have customers who prefer very simple stuff. Judging what’s best is based on experience, gut instinct and what your customer base is willing to accept.”

Lawson of Best Kiteboarding sees no reason both approaches can’t be used simultaneously. “Make your design accommodate the content that is necessary to display for shoppers,” he advises. “If some pages are busy and most others are not, that is not necessarily a problem.”

Tempting technology

If an e-retailer decides to shed some pounds for a more minimalist look, the decision is put to the test by the tasty treats technology dangles before it. Blind pursuit of popular web technology such as online video, tickers and animated gifs may lead to crowds, or to crowded pages. The other side of the coin: Some of the latest web technology, such as Ajax, enables e-retailers to put more material on a page, much of which isn’t seen until a shopper mouses over a product or button.

Overstock.com’s marketing department’s teams of graphic and web designers and web producers and editors translate the e-retailer’s cool vision into reality via a variety of technology. For the most part the teams use Adobe Creative Suite print, web and mobile publishing software, and a personalization system from Kefta Inc. Typically the teams focus on site search, taxonomy and overall design rather than design details such as additional images or pop-up windows. However, if staff sees new features or technology that add significant value to a shopper’s web experience and decision making and is essentially universally compatible, the merchant will build them into the design, internal marketing staff says.

Overstock.com determines the value of new technology by giving it a test run and monitoring conversion, add-to-cart, bounce and other rates, staff says, then analyzing all gathered data to conclude whether a new design element truly is an improvement over the status quo.

Boy, that looks good

There’s one aspect of the status quo that will never change at men’s fashion cataloger and e-retailer Undergear-the pages and pages of vibrant imagery of attractive, well-built, young men showing off the latest styles in underwear, swimwear, activewear and other apparel. A snug site design is fitting for its key customers-fit, predominantly urban men between 25 and 54 who like to experiment with looks and set trends, says Robin Baskin, vice president of e-commerce at Hanover Direct Inc., which operates six cataloger/e-retailer businesses, including Undergear, International Male and Silhouettes.

Baskin was hired a year ago and immediately tasked to consider a web site redesign. Undergear.com launched in 1999-its first major redesign came in April 2004, its second debuted in early January. The retailer’s sharp focus on distinctive, large pictures of men in a minimum of clothing is a major ingredient in its minimalist site design approach. “Minimalism is important because it enables our customers to easily and quickly accomplish what they want to do,” Baskin says.

To achieve the look, Undergear slipped on some of the latest site design technology, Ajax. “One of the primary goals of the redesign was to allow for rapid and fluid access to site content and create a more seamless user experience that minimizes the constant back-and-forth screen redraws typical of the current online shopping experience. The use of Ajax was a key component to achieving this goal,” says Colton Perry, vice president of creative and technology at NetPlus Marketing Inc., an interactive marketing and design firm Undergear selected for redesign as well as programming and coding assistance.

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