February 10, 2010, 12:00 AM

Minor changes to Meijer.com increases conversion rates

Meijer Inc. found that making little changes to its e-commerce site can increase conversion rates, says Rick McNeill, the grocery and general merchandise chain’s web design product manager.

Meijer.com launched in late 2007, and since then the retailer has made tweaks here and there. Though he declines to detail how the changes have improved traffic to the site, Rick McNeill, the grocery and general merchandise chain’s web design product manager, says they have led to more shoppers buying products from Meijer.com.

McNeill will be speaking at the Internet Retailer Web Design & Usability Conference, Feb. 15-17 in Orlando, FL, in a session entitled Step by step: Little changes add up. Not all retailers can afford the time or money required for major web site overhauls, especially with the fragile state of the economy, McNeill says. And not all e-retailers need to put their site through massive renovations.

One small change at Meijer.com included increasing the size of the search bar, making it more visible. That enabled customers to find the search bar more easily, which makes for a quicker, more efficient shopping experience, says McNeill. “Customers are not struggling looking for the box on the page,” he says.

Meijer also improved its page load times by up to 50%, he says. Though such improvements often can be measured in seconds, customers can perceive the change as dramatic, McNeill says. Customers tend to stay longer on Meijer.com and return more often if they are not forced to wait to shop. McNeil notes that a survey in December from IT infrastructure firm Sawis found that if a page takes more than two seconds to load, 14% of consumers will leave. Pages that take more than 10 seconds to load will lose 70% of shoppers.

“If our pages are loading slowly, that gets as old as standing in line at the bricks-and-mortar store,” McNeill says.

To improve page load times, Meijer.com reduced how many interactive elements it offered. “We had some nice flash pieces that were impacting page load times,” McNeill says. The retailer also beefed up its server capacity.

One key to achieving these relatively small changes-that is, avoiding project inflation-is to set and keep specific goals, and focus on the most profitable aspect of the e-commerce site, McNeill says. Additionally, a level of simplicity may come from forgoing the hiring of relatively expensive consultants for usability studies and relying instead, as Meijer has done, on cheaper feedback from web businesses that serve as de-facto focus groups.

Meijer, No. 489 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, (a PDF version of the company’s financial and operating profile can be ordered by clicking on its name).

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