March 1, 2010, 12:00 AM

Standout designs

Internet Retailer’s annual conference provided attendees lots of ideas for upgrading their sites.

Good web site design is all about making it easy for consumers to shop and increasing the likelihood they will buy-and return to buy again. The many ways that can be accomplished was the subject of the Internet Retailer Web Design & Usability 2010 Conference in Orlando last month.

“Web design plays a critical role in the customer engagement process,” said John Thompson, senior vice president and general manager of, the flagship e-commerce site of multichannel consumer electronics retailer Best Buy Co. Inc.

Thompson, the keynote speaker, outlined Best Buy’s three-part strategy for using the web to become more accessible to consumers, personal and multichannel. He was among the 44 speakers from retailers and web design technology and services companies who addressed the many challenges and benefits of deploying effective web site designs.

In all, 775 attended the event, which featured an exhibit hall with 45 providers of e-commerce technology and services.

“Our paid conference attendance was up 37% from last year’s IRWD show,” says Jack Love, publisher of Internet Retailer and president of its parent company, Chicago-based Vertical Web Media LLC. “That tells me that e-retailers are feeling pretty good about their prospects for growth this year following a lackluster 2009 and are ready to reinvest in their web sites in order to capitalize on the growth opportunities they see. Absolutely nothing reinvigorates a retail web site more than a redesign that utilizes the latest design technologies and methods. Judging by the crowded conference sessions and busy Exhibit Hall at IRWD 2010, e-retailers get that message.”

Better search rankings

In his address, Thompson provided extensive details on how Best Buy is making its e-commerce presence more accessible to consumers, making it easier to shop across the retailer’s multiple channels and expanding the use of personalized web content.

To make its web site more accessible through natural search, Best Buy has taken steps such as tweaking its URLs to make them more easily readable by both people and search engine crawlers and better describing the products offered on each web page. Such steps enabled Best Buy last year to increase by 61% its first-page natural search rankings and by 168% its second-page rankings, Thompson said.

Best Buy has also nearly tripled its online traffic from mobile shopping devices in the past year to about 17 million visitors with its mobile site,, and it has garnered ideas on improving its products through an IdeaX community that consumers can access through Twitter and Facebook.

To better personalize the shopping experience for anonymous shoppers, Best Buy has designed its web site so that when these shoppers return, they’re presented with content related to what they viewed on prior visits, Thompson said.

Better shopping cart

The IRWD 2010 show also included featured addresses by speakers from Performance Inc.’s Performance Bicycle and Nashbar e-commerce sites, and from party supplies retailer Oriental Trading Co.

Lynnette Montgomery, vice president of direct marketing for Performance Bicycle and Nashbar, described how her company is gradually introducing site changes this year to improve the consumer shopping experience, assert itself as an online destination and build its brand across each of its channels.

After two months of monitoring its customers’ shopping behaviors, Performance introduced online product reviews, personalized content, live chat customer service and a simplified shopping cart that alone required more than 60 changes. Within two weeks of offering the new cart, with such new features as prominent free-shipping notices and cross-selling offers, the average order value increased, Montgomery said.

Brian Moen, vice president of e-commerce at Oriental Trading, said his company also increased its e-commerce site’s conversion rates after gathering feedback from customers on how they like to shop and what they like to buy.

Oriental responded with improved site navigation and more party supplies content geared toward teens, a departure from the retailer’s previous laser focus on young children and their parents. Moen noted that Oriental was surprised to learn that five employees needed only 10 days to significantly improve search and navigation by adding content attributes to 40,000 product SKUs.

Design and redesign

Other conference speakers covered topics ranging from basic site usability issues and improving conversion rates through how to engage consumers through rich media content and social marketing connections.

Lori Graham, e-commerce business manager for apparel brand Lee Jeans, explained how she worked with design firm Usability Sciences to continue tweaking after the site relaunched with a new design in April 2009.

Although the improved design helped a higher percentage of consumers find the products they were seeking and complete purchases, Lee and Usability continued testing the site to learn how they could improve it further, such as with a better product comparison feature and more understandable sizing and product fit terms.

At MacNeil Automotive Products Limited’s, which sells floor mats and other automotive accessories, a new web site design slated for launch this spring includes ease-of-shopping features such as mousing over a car’s trunk to see an illustration of how a cargo liner would fit inside. Such innovations have bolstered WeatherTech’s position in natural search rankings while also helping its customers better understand its products, said Brian Evans, MacNeil Automotive’s director of e-commerce.

Conference speakers also noted the importance of keeping designs simple and uncluttered while focusing on clearly defined goals.

“Avoid scope creep and stick to key performance indicators,” said Josh Himwich, director of e-commerce solutions at, a web-only retailer of baby products.

One way to do that, he added, is to analyze and improve a site’s hit ratio-or the share of clicks received by each individual display of content on a page. For example, when found that a particular page was getting 98% of its clicks on the top half of the page, it eliminated a promotional box at the bottom of the page.

Indeed, as the web becomes more complex, online retailers should resist the temptation to stuff their sites with features that only make shopping more difficult for consumers, said Pamela Hilborn, user experience director for e-book retailer Kobo Inc. “The less you ask the user to do, the more likely they are to adapt to your new tools,” she said. “Avoid feature overkill.”

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