May 2, 2008, 12:00 AM

Back to Basics

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And so, hired design firm Zero Gravity Group and started trimming. The e-retailer spent eight weeks redesigning the site, paring down copy and eliminating clutter, such as extraneous links.

“We designed with fewer words and simpler graphics,” Keeney says. “We looked to cut, cut, cut-cut out everything that wasn’t important. We call it the iPod effect.”

On the home page alone, myPhotopipe trimmed the word count from more than 700 to about 100. It reduced links on the home page from more than 60 to about 20. And the e-retailer simplified navigation. For example, before, visitors who clicked on the products and pricing link on the home page were directed to a list of about 1,000 items. Users were forced to scroll through the listings to find their product.

Keeney says the format was overwhelming and prompted many visitors to leave. Now, a user who clicks on that link sees a page that breaks products into 14 categories. Customers can click on the one that refers to what they are seeking. The new format is easier to read and less intimidating, Keeney says, and site abandonment from that page has decreased.

Sign in, please

Visitors are spending on average about a minute longer on the myPhotopipe web site since the changes-five minutes compared to four-more than 16,000 new users have bookmarked the home page and more consumers are stopping by. About 3 million visited in March, a 29% increase from February and nearly double the number of a year ago.

Listening to customers and evaluating their behavior also can lead to inexpensive improvements. Barrett realized this when he made a small tweak to the Hazelden bookstore that had a big impact.

After speaking with the customer service team, Barrett realized many returning customers were confused about the sign-in procedure. Visitors who had registered with the site were prompted to enter a customer name when they returned. They found that phrase-customer name-confusing, and Hazelden’s customer service team often received calls from shoppers asking for their assigned name. Hazelden switched to a more common term-sign-in-name-and customer service inquiries about registration have dropped by about 80% since, Barrett says.

Such examples illustrate the importance of thinking like a visitor, not an employee. And that method of thinking is a strategy Ben Chafetz uses all the time.

Questions like ”How would I view this if I were new to the site?“ or “Would I understand this if I didn’t work here?“ are questions Chafetz, vice president of marketing for LD Products Inc. which operates the e-commerce site, considers each day. “As a marketer, I know that it’s easy to overanalyze and make things that are simple complicated,” Chafetz says.

In fact, adopting a customer mentality was so important to Chafetz that he paid for a program to help him do it better. While visiting a marketing forum, Chafetz came across a firm that sells software that records where visitors move their mouse, where they click and the pages they visit. He signed up for a 30-day free trial and was intrigued. He liked peering into how a customer used the site, but wanted more detail than the software could provide. For one thing, Chafetz says, the program could not track the checkout process and was not flexible with web sites that changed their design and pages often.

Seeking an even better view of customer activity, Chafetz stepped up to a more robust software program from Tealeaf Technology Inc. The program analyzes exactly how customers use the site, the pages they visit, the sequence in which they visit and when they leave. The system cost around $100,000. Despite the hefty price tag, Chafetz says the program has paid off.

“The ability to watch from customers’ viewpoints and see how they interact with the site was important,” Chafetz says. “We got to see exactly how people use the site, and got a good analysis of our weak areas.”

Bigger buttons

For example, when evaluating customer behavior through Tealeaf, Chafetz’s team noticed many visitors were leaving the site toward the end of checkout. “About 10% were abandoning their orders right before they submitted them,” Chafetz says. The problem? The order review page looked like an invoice page and the “Submit Order” button was too small. “People thought they had submitted their order,” Chafetz says.

The fix was simple. added a prominent message telling the customer the order is not complete, blew up the Submit Order button, and duplicated navigation links on the bottom, such as Continue Checkout and Continue Shopping, from the top of the page. Those changes spurred a 21% increase in conversions.

As realized with this simple fix, retailers don’t have to invest in the most expensive high-tech systems to improve their conversion rates. Sometimes, back to the basics works fine. “We realized it’s not all about the latest technology,” Chafetz says. “The little widgets and gadgets are not necessarily what a customer wants.”

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