December 29, 2008, 12:00 AM

Reshaping Web Site Design

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With its plan in place, Action Envelope redesigned its web site and added custom design tools and more rich media. The updated now has one tab for paper and another for envelopes across the top navigation bar, which helps to keep the home page design clean. When a visitor’s mouse hovers over the envelopes category a pop-up box appears that offers a variety of options, including business and social envelopes, shipping and packaging products, and most popular items. Within the same box, visitors can choose to shop by color, collection, style and use, or to select such services as express printing, high-volume direct mail envelopes, or custom envelopes.

Another tab on the top navigation bar called My Account lets a returning customer log in, see his previous five orders and click on a reorder button that takes him directly to the shopping cart. Several rounds of testing confirmed what consumers and small businesses wanted most: a fast and sophisticated process to order envelopes. “People don’t want to spend their entire day reordering envelopes. They want to order the envelopes and move on,” Newman says. “We’re trying to help them do that.”

For some customers, color is the key if they’re shopping for envelopes such as for a wedding with a distinctive color scheme. A new shop-by-color option above the fold on Action Envelope’s home page lets a customer move a slider to choose the color she wants, with the full spectrum of envelope colors moving horizontally across the page as the visitor drags the slider with her mouse. When the customer chooses a particular hue, such as bright orange, the page shows thumbnails of all 18 envelopes that Action Envelope sells in that color.

The color selector, which was built using Ajax, or asynchronous JavaScript and XML, is an example of how the new Action Envelope web site makes use of recent advances in web design technology, says Alex Schmelkin, president of Alexander Interactive, which has worked with Action Envelope on its last two site redesigns.

When Action Envelope was last redesigning its site in 2004, he says, horizontal sliders were cumbersome and hard to use. But the new slider moves as easily as if the consumer were pushing it with her finger. “We love this way of doing it,” Schmelkin says. “People understand rainbows and it’s a very easy visual metaphor to let people scroll across different colors, stopping on the one they like, clicking on it and seeing the complementary colors around it.”

Big expense

The latest redesign took Action Envelope 15 months and about $200,000 to complete. It is paying off in more business, Newman says. In the first month after the revised went live, envelope sales doubled to about $1 million and the conversion rate on some envelope styles improved by over 40%. “We knew how customers wanted to use our site and we knew what we had to do to meet those expectations,” says Newman. “Having a formal working document helped us to meet some tight deadlines and stay within our budget.”

Redesigning a web site can be expensive. A big chain retailer can easily spend more than $1 million and take up to 18 months to complete a redesign that includes multiple new page treatments, universal style sheets, and sophisticated features and functions. Even a smaller merchant that uses an outside design firm to revamp an e-commerce site can expect the process to last several months and range in cost from $50,000 to $200,000. To save time and money, some retailers are opting not to make over every aspect of their web sites.

Instead, they are being selective and choosing only the new programs they believe will generate the most new business, such as a new site search program, product videos or customer ratings and reviews. Once the new application is in place, retailers are also conducting more A/B testing, in which a merchant shows a group of shoppers a pair of alternative web pages or two versions of an advanced feature and then asks them to express their likes and dislikes about each, to ensure the new design or program is meeting expectations. “Retailers don’t need to retool every aspect of their web site every two years,” says Dan Kurani, CEO of retail web site design firm Kurani Interactive. “To generate the most new business, they need to cherry pick only the best treatments or features they think will drive the most traffic and sales.”

Specific focus

When QVC recently updated its e-commerce site with a slew of new page treatments and features, the TV and web retailer stopped short of a complete redesign. Instead, QVC focused on adding features and functions that gave customers new ways to interact with and each other. A new mobile commerce site,, which allows users to shop and complete an order using text messaging, made it easier for customers to shop online with their cell phones.

QVC tested and then rolled out the first wave of design changes in early 2008 and introduced others throughout the summer. The new home page for the retooled shows large graphics, which depict a deal of the day and upcoming shows and sales. To promote a deeper sense of community, was also updated with customer reviews, interactive polls, blogs, live chats with QVC hosts and celebrities, and moderated forums.

QVC conducted several rounds of A/B tests to refine where to place the new features on product pages, and customers liked the end result. Since the new design went live, QVC has added 41,000 new community members which altogether have generated more than 200 million page views. “We don’t do full-scale site redesigns anymore,” says QVC senior vice president of platforms and broadcast technology Bob Myers. “We tested and launched only the new features and functions our customers told us they most wanted.”

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