November 26, 2008, 12:00 AM

Doing more with less sums up Fat Brain’s approach to web site design

When Fat Brain Toys, a niche retailer of learning toys, redesigned its web site in May, the entire process took six weeks to complete and cost less than $25,000.

To save money and expedite the process, some retailers are creating simple, but more effective designs that take advantage of their existing infrastructure. When Fat Brain Toys, a small family owned niche retailer of learning toys and related merchandise, redesigned its web site in May, the entire process took six weeks to complete and cost less than $25,000. But the changes were more than just cosmetic touchups for the home and product pages.

Fat Brain, which carries an online inventory of 5,000 SKUs, made significant upgrades to its site search, added more categories and dramatically improved navigation. Visitors wanted better ways to search for learning toys by age and sex so Fat Brain added a new section on the home page that breaks down toys separately for boys and girls and by age. Fat Brain also added more guided navigation and developed a new site taxonomy and information database that reclassified all products into 30 different categories such as active play and games. As a result of better site search, which is a combination of Fat Brain’s updated internal products database and technology from Google Inc., the time it takes shoppers to start and complete a query has improved by 50%.

Fat Brain’s retooled web site design now features live chat and customer reviews. The home page has been updated with clearer images, a top-of-the-page navigation bar that lets visitors shop by age, what’s new and other categories, and a gifts wizard, which asks visitors five questions to help them locate the right item for an upcoming birthday, holiday or special event. Fat Brain didn’t redesign its web site unilaterally. Instead the retailer relied extensively on customer feedback to bring about the new look and treatments.

“Some web sites get caught up in building a Mercedes when a Kia will do just fine,” says Fat Brain co-founder and CEO Mark Carson. “We did the work in-house and made do with the resources we had on hand.” Fat Brain didn’t conduct extensive A/B or multivariate testing to achieve the final design. But almost a decade of monitoring calls and e-mails to its in-house customer service center, gave Carson plenty of user feedback to fall back on. “We were hands-on with the design and putting in place only the most important elements our customers wanted us to make,” he says. “We don’t operate in a black box. If users didn’t like the new site search or home page, they would quickly let us know.”

By using only its in-house staff of three developers and programmers to redesign the site, Fat Brain saved money on the cost of the project.

Customers are responding to the new look. The redesigned site has helped Fat Brain, No. 457 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, increase its sales conversion rate from 2.1% to 2.5%. Fat Brain also expects web sales to reach $13 million in 2008, up by almost 40% from e-commerce sales of $9.3 million in 2007. “We didn’t take forever and a day to complete this redesign,” Carson says. “We got to the heart of what our customers wanted and we completed the project within our available budget and resources.”


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