June 13, 2010, 11:31 AM

Research leads to the right design recipe

Usability testing helps Charming Shoppes understand how consumers shop its site.

Lead Photo

Ken Mowry, vice president of multichannel apparel retailer Charming Shoppes, spoke at the Internet Retailer Conference 2010 on the importance of accessing and understanding data on how customers are using a retailer's web site and the sites of its competitors.

Women’s plus-size apparel retailer Charming Shoppes Inc. registered a six-fold increase in sales growth, to 36% in the first quarter of this year compared with 6% a year earlier, after launching a redesigned site. And the company credits part of the success to changes suggested by usability testing, Ken Mowry, Charming Shoppes vice president of marketing and creative, told attendees at Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition 2010.

Charming Shoppes launched its replatformed site in August 2009 with dramatic changes, Mowry said at the session entitled “Why research is crucial to understanding your customers’ web site experience.” The new site consolidated Charming Shoppes’ brands—Lane Bryant, Catherine’s, Cacique and Fashion Bug—under its LaneBryant.com domain and offered a common shopping cart to allow visitors to shop at the four brands’ sites and purchase through a single check-out. 

Usability testing which involved videotaping sessions of 30 consumers shopping on the site in March 2010, showed that consumers liked the single domain. “During the usability tests, I was stunned by the ‘wow’ that women said as they went through,” said Mowry.

However, the testing, conducted with the help of Usability Sciences, revealed problems with the layout of category pages that confused shoppers, Mowry noted. In the redesigned site, products were placed in a slideshow format for visitors to view items horizontally, with subcategory items appearing in rows on the same page. Many customers thought they were viewing everything in the category, when they were seeing only seeing a sub-category.

“Users didn’t realize the way the items were displayed in a category,” Mowry said. “What we learned is there is a very strong gender approach to shopping. Women want to view it all. Men are very different. They shop click to click to click and move on.”

As a result, Charming Shoppes changed the structure so all items in a category can be viewed at the same time by customers who can then filter as they wish, he said. For example, a shopper searching dresses will see all available dresses but can narrow the selection by size, color and price, with those filters located on the left side of the page.

Usability testing also led the retailer to change the minicart that was added in the redesign. Originally, the list of items the consumer had selected for purchase would appear for five seconds as shoppers added items, then disappear. Testing showed that women would keep adding items just to see the contents of the cart.

“We learned that we wanted to leave it up and let consumers choose to close it,” Mowry said. “It’s a simple change but something we didn’t really understand before that.”

In addition to usability testing, Mowry recommended other ways to better assess a site’s experience:

  • A/B testing
  • Site surveys
  • Call center feedback
  • Web site analytics

“Web analytics is the best way to get the pulse of your web site,” he said.


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