February 1, 2011, 12:00 AM

The Internet Retailer Survey: Impactful Design

Online retailers are busy with site redesigns, but they don't want their sites to be busy.

Lead Photo

Online retailers plan a busy 2011 updating their e-commerce sites with new looks and better features. But many are taking a measured approach to web site redesigns, instead of taking on a sweeping redesign all at once or implementing a bold new look along with a wholesale revamp of their e-commerce infrastructure, suggests Internet Retailer’s latest survey.

What’s more, many retailers are focused on making it easy for a consumer to arrive at a site, find what she wants and buy it—without being distracted by too much clutter. Eye candy is out, and clean and simple is in, the survey suggests. That’s reflected in the 65.4% of merchants in the Internet Retailer survey who say their top priority is better web page organization, compared with 55.5% focused on cleaner page navigation, 50.2% that will work on speedier and more intuitive site search, 49.3% that expect to build faster checkout, 38.4% that plan to implement bigger and cleaner images and 36% that need to work on search engine optimization so they show up higher in the results on search engines like Google and Bing.

“Being fleet-footed and uncomplicated with your design is very important these days,” says David Wertheimer, director of strategy at New York web design firm Alexander Interactive. “More of our clients are doing targeted projects to reduce unnecessary clutter on key product pages, simplify navigation and do away with unwanted text and images.”

Fewer retailers are starting with a clean sheet of paper and redesigning from scratch, and more are focusing on key elements of a site’s design, Wertheimer says.“The trend among retailers these days is doing design projects that solve a particular problem or achieve a specific business goal,” he says. “Design doesn’t have to be all about reinventing the wheel. More retailers today are redesigning just the key parts of their site they think will boost sales or deliver a better user experience.”

Not surprisingly, increasing sales emerged as the most often-cited aim of site redesigns in the survey of 211 chain retailers, catalog companies, web-only merchants and consumer brand manufacturers. For 53.1% of merchants, boosting sales is the top business driver for any new design project, followed by 46.4% that want to attract more visitors and shoppers, 35.1% that want to generate higher sales conversion, 24.6% looking for more multichannel revenue and 20.9% that want to improve customer service.

For many retailers, mobile commerce and the explosive growth of social networks is an important inducement to green light design projects. That’s evident from the 36.5% of retailers that expect to roll out or expand their use of social media and 33.6% that will implement mobile commerce offerings for the first time or add to those already in place.

Everyone’s doing it

Retailers are certainly busy with thinking—and acting—on web design and usability. A total of 62.1% of merchants participating in the Internet Retailer survey have redesigned all or a part of their e-commerce site in the past year, including 40.8% in the past six months and 29.4% in just the last 90 days.

That fast pace of design initiatives also indicates more retailers see the importance of an e-commerce site that looks up to date and that offers state-of-the-art functionality, says Wertheimer.

It may also be a function of the budget-conscious times. Taking on a big design project can be costly and time-consuming. A big multichannel retailer can take up to a year and pay in excess of $1 million to entirely redesign its e-commerce site, says Tom Funk, vice president of marketing at web design firm Timberline Interactive.

But most of the executives responding to the Internet Retailer survey say their companies are doing the work in-house and keeping budgets well below the $1 million mark. The survey notes that 90.4% of merchants will spend no more than $250,000 on their next design initiative, including 67.7% under $50,000.The survey attracted responses from 124 web-only merchants, 33 catalog companies, 29 chain retailers and 25 consumer brand manufacturers.

Many retailers—42.5%—will do the work on their next design project in-house, compared with 23.8% that will use internal staff and a new outside design firm, 8.7% that will outsource the project to a new agency and 8.3% that plan to utilize their own employees and current outside design firm.

“More retailers are looking at design today as an ongoing improvement project where their internal staff has the business and customer know-how to complete a particular task, but they will bring in outside talent when they need help with conceptualization and implementation,” says Funk. “There are a lot of moving parts to an e-commerce site and retailers are committing money and resources to the design projects they believe will have the biggest impact on generating more business.”

Fast on their feet

Retailers are moving quickly on design projects in order to eliminate even simple flaws that can hurt sales and traffic, says Funk. The Internet Retailer survey finds that 79.7% of merchants plan to finish their next design project in six months or less, including 42.1% that plan to complete the work in no more than 90 days.

Asked which design flaws they planned to fix, 27% of respondents cited too many elements on the home page, 20.9% inconsistent page navigation, 20.4% poorly placed buttons and other page elements, and 14.7% add-to-cart buttons located below the fold on key merchandising pages.

“It’s fixing the little design flaws that can generate a bigger return, and more retailers are concentrating on that,” says Funk. “Eliminating simple design mistakes doesn’t have to cost a lot of money or take a lot of time, but it will help to fix conversion rate drag.”

Once retailers have indentified and fixed a design flaw or rolled out a new web site feature, they are doing more testing to gauge customer feedback, according to the Internet Retailer survey. The research finds that 71.9% of retailers now test their latest web site design updates. Catalogers were the most avid testers at 84.8%, followed by consumer brand manufacturers at 82.6%, retail chains at 72.4% and web-only merchants at 66.7%.

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