June 23, 2009, 12:00 AM

There’s not one, but many, paths to effective site navigation, experts say

Offering several paths to purchase is a smart move for e-retailers, Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition presenters say.

E-retailers need to determine who is shopping at their e-commerce sites and then establish navigation paths that will keep the shoppers moving through the site, a consultant and retailer told attendees at the Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition in Boston last week.

In a session called “’Round, ‘round get around: Making sure customers can navigate your site,” Josh Levine, co-founder and chief creative officer of web design firm Alexander Interactive and Keith Marshall, webmaster and developer at RugSale.com, both noted that a site’s customer base consists of different customer types who respond best to different navigation strategies.

That means it`s important to offer customers choices in how to navigate, such as by product type, collection, customized functionality, specialty shops and boutiques, and search, Levine said. Levine cited client Action Envelope’s home page as an example-it lets customers choose to shop by style, by color or by product type. Levine also noted several other tips to keep customers moving along the browsing path to finding a product: for example, reducing the need to refresh pages by using shortcuts, and using breadcrumb trails and “recently viewed items” features to make it easy for customers to backtrack to their original place on their navigational path if they step off it to view something else.

Levine further advised e-retailers to include features that support buying momentum, such as instant add-to-cart options, and promoting relevant upsells in a way that does not impede checkout. “It’s all about the customer," he said, summarizing his approach to successful site navigation. "Allow them to shop how they want. Provide tools for comparison and comprehension and be helpful without being intrusive. "

E-retailer RugSale’s site navigation is based on its identification of three distinct customer types: emotional, rational and decisional. For emotional shoppers who want to be inspired before they buy, RugSale provides quality photos including zoom, and displays what products other customers have bought or browsed as well as related products. For rational shoppers that like to research before buying, RugSale offers product videos that showcase product quality as well as complete product descriptions including a list of comparable features such as construction type. It also provides product reviews and a clear pricing structure for the various rug size options.

For decisional shoppers, those who are ready to purchase, the site offers strong searchable keywords and model numbers; clear information on return policies, shipping and tax; and easy add-to-cart and checkout procedures. “We find it’s important to show a progress bar during the checkout process,” Marshall added. “If they’re not given how long this is going to take, they’ll leave. “

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