December 29, 2008, 12:00 AM

SPONSORED SUPPLEMENT: Web Site Design and Usability

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“Using Ajax technology allows images to change when moused over without having to refresh the page,” Svanascini says. “Perception is everything in site design and it is best to avoid whole page downloads that can create an impression of slowness whenever possible.”

The perception of speedy downloads is especially important when video is incorporated into site design. “Flash video loads faster than other multimedia applications, such as QuickTime,” Svanascini says. “Using HTML-based flat page designs for pages that don’t change much also makes sense, because they load faster than pages that have to pull the information from a database. Knowing which technology is best for getting the job done is important.”

Regardless of which design elements retailers think will work best, customer feedback remains the acid test. Live chat can be used to query shoppers about site design and usability. “During chat sessions shoppers can be asked if they found any flaws in how the site was designed or encountered trouble with its usability,” Castro-Miller says. “Using chat to ask shoppers what they think of a site design won’t make a poor design better at that moment, but it can yield information that can be utilized for redesigns or tweaks that improve conversions.”

Knowing when to redesign a web site can be a tough call for retailers as many keep a successful site design beyond its prime. The rapid evolution of site design requires that sites be redesigned every two to three years. “But that window is shortening as online sales increase,” says Svanascini. “Site designs need to be kept fresh and current with shoppers’ changing needs.”

Keep testing

When any changes to site design are made, the rule of thumb is to test, test, test before rollout. “Retailers should always A/B test any design change so they can see what makes the most sense visually to the shopper,” Castro-Miller says.

Retailers also need to think more about the return on investment when redesigning a site, rather than focusing strictly on cost. “The return on investment is important to keep in perspective when considering the cost, because retailers will sometimes focus too much on cost even though the ROI will justify it,” says Svanascini.

With consumers becoming more web savvy and developing more discriminating tastes when it comes to site design, retailers will be challenged to ensure their site design engages shoppers and leads to higher conversion.

“Without a good design, retailers have a static site that lacks appeal,” Castro-Miller says. “Good design brings a site alive, provides the tools such as live chat that make the retailer directly accessible to the shopper, and connects the shopper with the retailer in a unique way.”

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