January 29, 2010, 12:00 AM

The dollars are in the details

(Page 2 of 3)

New approach
Having analyzed dozens of customer reviews on its own site and from price-comparison and shopper-satisfaction sites such as BizRate.com, online jeweler Ice.com used the feedback to rethink how it shows what products look like.

Ice.com was using a mix of static images and some video to showcase its inventory of more than 3,000 rings, earrings, bracelets, pendants, necklaces and watches. But in numerous customer reviews, shoppers complained that most product images were small and didn`t show enough detail. In follow-up calls and e-mails with shoppers who had abandoned a shopping cart or returned merchandise, Ice.com call center reps also learned that static images didn`t let customers see all of the color and clarity details on higher-end jewelry such as $2,500 diamond engagement rings.

"How we were using the images on our merchandising pages didn`t do an effective job of showing the product details customers wanted before they made a buying decision," says Ice.com chief motivation officer Pinny Gniwisch. "We fixed our design because we listened directly to customers and learned firsthand what they didn`t like."

To improve its product page design, Ice.com has begun to phase out static images and introduce videos for each piece of merchandise. The company had swapped out static images for short videos on about 800 items by late fall 2009 and expected to update its entire online inventory by spring 2010. The videos, which are created and edited by Ice.com in its own production studio, are 15-second film snippets that show a human model wearing the jewelry, close-up and rotating views of the merchandise, and a voiceover narrated by a professional actress that describes key product details such as the clarity and cut of various diamonds.

Ice.com also redesigned its product page template to make the video the key element at the top of each page. To generate more sales, the area next to the video now features an enhanced "buy this item now" button, additional product recommendations and customer ratings.

The e-retailer is making the changes as it tries to revitalize sales in a tough patch for jewelry retailers, online and off. In 2009 sales at Ice.com dropped year over year by about 10% to around $60 million. But by doing a better job of following up on customer feedback and redesigning certain key elements on its product pages, Ice.com was expecting sales to rebound in 2010, but didn`t provide a specific figure.

Fewer returns

Customers also like the new design. In preliminary A/B tests, the conversion rate on products purchased after viewing a more detailed merchandising video jumped 400%, says Gniwisch. Those improved product pages also helped Ice.com reduce its monthly product return rate from 12% to less than 9%. "That`s a huge difference," says Gniwisch. "Now that the product pages give shoppers better ways to research and see the details, we aren`t getting comments with returned items such as `this wasn`t as big as I thought it would be` and `the clarity isn`t what I expected.`"

There are other ways besides direct customer feedback and analytics data to identify problems that need fixing. For example, a retailer can evaluate the strengths and weakness of a site design by comparing top-selling products and lower-performing items, says Betsy Emery, CEO of Tellus, a Cincinnati web site design and consulting firm. The report should analyze key performance metrics for each item on the page, including sales, average order size, conversion rate, traffic from paid search campaigns and site optimization, and by upselling and cross-selling results.

The results can serve as a guide to spotting and fixing design and usability obstacles. "An online retailer interested in boosting revenue can find that making even simple design changes will provide ample opportunity for a bigger return on investment," says Emery. "Product page designs impact web site traffic, sales conversion, customer loyalty and purchasing decisions. Making the right small changes to product pages can pay off in big ways."

To fix a design flaw on its key merchandising pages, CarolinaRustica.com, an online retailer of upscale home furnishings, first compiled a strengths and weakness usability report and then reviewed competing web sites. Its conclusion: Make the site search button bigger and more prominent.

CarolinaRustica.com, which generates about $3.5 million in annual web sales, serves an older and affluent consumer. A typical customer is 50, may own multiple homes and has annual household income of well above $100,000.

Make it obvious
CarolinaRustica.com redid its search box after a design review revealed that only about 50% of shoppers were using the site search box to locate products. Even though key pages featured an advanced engine equipped with guided navigation and multiple ways to search for products by category, sub-category, brand, price and other parameters, many customers still weren`t using site search.

"We cater to older shoppers who aren`t the most web-savvy," says Richard Sexton, CEO. "We thought we had made advanced site search very available to our customers, but the tool was hidden by a poor design. Instead of using the site search engine, shoppers were clicking on our shop by room or brand buttons and starting their search from there."

On its old pages, CarolinaRustica.com displayed a generic search box with a white background and another box with a drop-down menu that displayed product categories and other information. But after studying other web sites and looking at better layouts, CarolinaRustica.com redesigned page templates to make its search box much more prominent.

The new site search box on CarolinaRustica.com is twice the size of the old one and is now the central element at the top of each page. To make it easier for shoppers to use, the site search box also has default language written in big text that says "What are you looking for?"

To drive home the message that its site search box had been completely updated, CarolinaRustica.com also made the "go" button 50% larger and added language to the left of the button that highlights the names of several best-selling brands. "The specific brand names let shoppers know they could find what they were looking for by taking advantage of our easier-to-use site search box," says Sexton. "The design changes sent an obvious message to our shoppers: `Start your search here.`"

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