October 1, 2010, 12:45 PM

Sponsored Case Study: When e-retailers are the consumers

The redesign of InternetRetailer.com offers lessons for its readers

E-commerce is constantly changing, and that means online retailers need a trusted source for the latest in industry trends, new technology and best practices. Having established InternetRetailer.com as the authoritative voice on e-commerce since its launch in 2001, Vertical Web Media LLC, also the publisher of Internet Retailer magazine, concluded in the spring of 2009 that the web site was long overdue for a makeover.


In the eight years since InternetRetailer.com had gone live, web site design and technology had been transformed. Video, rich imagery, the ability for online consumers to comment on stories or blogs—all site design elements the magazine and web reports had covered in depth over the years—had gone from cutting-edge features to must-haves in any site design.

At the same time, web users over the course of the decade had become accustomed to easy-to-use navigation paths that get them to the information they seek in just a few clicks and site search engines that deliver the most relevant results to any search query.

The challenge facing InternetRetailer.com was how to leverage the advances in site design to create a new site that would provide readers easier access to the information they need and that would give them good reason to spend more time on the site.

“Our vision was to create a state-of-the-art web site that is sleek, content-rich and interactive on a deeper level, while allowing readers easier access to all the information we provide,” says Molly Love Rogers, president of Internet Retailer. “To achieve that goal we knew we needed a flexible architecture that engages every user, populates each page with additional information and prevents navigational dead-ends.”

A big focus group

After reviewing proposals from several site design firms, Vertical Web Media selected e-commerce design and engineering firm Alexander Interactive (Ai). After talking at length with executives at Vertical Web Media about the features they wanted in the new site, Ai began to frame the new site’s look and taxonomy.

One of the first steps was to rebrand the web site with a new, more contemporary logo that popped off the page and reflected Internet Retailer’s reputation as the authority on all aspects of e-commerce. With that in place, Ai presented a variety of design concepts for the InternetRetailer.com home page. Once the field was narrowed to three, attendees at Internet Retailer’s Web Design & Usability Conference in February in Orlando served as a focus group of several hundred, voting on which home page concept they liked best.

“Internet Retailer’s Web Design Conference seemed like the perfect place to test the new home page because it brought together more than 500 knowledgeable individuals whose day-to-day responsibilities are to design, test and improve the look, feel and interactivity of web sites,” says Josh Levine, Ai’s chief experience officer. “We were very happy with the feedback.”

Next, Ai tackled the new site’s taxonomy by identifying the subjects and categories most important to site visitors. InternetRetailer.com always enabled visitors to search its archive of more than 35,000 stories on e-commerce, but visitors were not always able to find the article they were searching for quickly. And once they found it, the story provided no links to related articles.

Organizing the new site’s taxonomy began with wire framing, a process of identifying and prioritizing the ways visitors use InternetRetailer.com and mapping the pathways through the site’s content that would be most useful to them.

“It is a very detailed process and we identified more than 500 potential user experiences that had to be prioritized. It helped us to refine and organize the user experience we wanted to create before beginning the actual design. The process made us an equal partner in the overall design process which helped bring the site we wanted to life,” says Rogers.

That wire framing process led to the addition of links to relevant articles, renaming some categories and the creation of new categories.

The inclusion of links to related articles enables a visitor reading a report about Amazon.com’s mobile commerce business to click on a link to a story about another retailer’s mobile initiatives, for instance. One of the new categories created was Trends + Data, which contains charts and tables on a wide variety of e-commerce trends, all searchable by topic. The taxonomy was tested for two months.

“We have always known that the magazine articles and news pages are the No. 1 draw to InternetRetailer.com. But we also noticed our audience is highly responsive to Trends + Data, the Top 500 list and company profiles, so we made access to these categories prominent,” says Rogers. “We routinely add new topics to keep pace with emerging technologies and trends, and the new site design provides our editors with greater flexibility to adapt our coverage of e-commerce as fast as the industry itself evolves.”

Spend some time

A primary goal of the redesign was to make the site more valuable for readers, and one way to measure success is by charting how much time visitors spend on the site. Since the June 1 re-launch of InterneRetailer.com, 54.2% of visitors are spending between five and 30 minutes on the site, more than half of them spending at least 10 minutes on each visit. In addition, impressions have increased three-fold—from about 450,000 to 1.5 million per month. What’s more, 48.2% of visitors return to the site in less than 24 hours, suggesting that many readers come back once a day or more to check the latest news.

“These metrics show we are connecting on a deeper level with visitors to the site by providing them with more reasons to spend time on the page they arrive at, and to visit additional pages. The overall user experience has been enriched,” says Rogers.

Viral video

Among the most visited pages on InternetRetailer.com are those that contain video. Audio and visual content is now posted on the site from last February’s Internet Retailer Web Design & Usability Conference and Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition 2010, which took place in June in Chicago. Video and audio tracks can be shared, which enables the content to go viral and helps raise the visibility of the site and its content.

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