February 15, 2011, 1:47 PM

On-site testing is a must, the E-tailing Group says

A survey shows that nearly 30% of merchants do not test web site features.

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With online retailers scrambling to understand customer desires in today’s competitive environment, web site testing ought to be mandatory, according to a report today from The E-tailing Group Inc., a consulting firm, and Amadesa, which sells e-commerce technology.

The report, “Testing Ready:  The Merchant’s Cheat Sheet for Testing and Targeting,” says that most companies in the e-commerce industry are coming to accept testing as a powerful tool to drive sales, but cautions that few companies fully take advantage of testing’s ability to improve shoppers’ online experience and increase conversion rates. Testing generally includes, for the purposes of the report, recording which site features and tweaks attract more consumers and sales.

Of the 160 merchants that E-tailing Group surveyed in the fourth quarter of 2010, 71% had tested at some point, with 33% of respondents saying they were active testers and 38% saying they tested once in a while. 7% of respondents said they had not tested their sites, while 8% said they plan to start this year. Those who had not yet taken the plunge cited as reasons a lack of resources and the fact that testing was not a priority or championed by anyone in their companies; 61% of respondents, in fact, said they had no budget for testing.

Retailers who tested their sites last year most often tested what the report calls creative execution which includes colors, buttons and fonts; 65% of respondents listed creative execution as an area they had tested, followed by 46% that tested promotional options such as coupons, 45% that tested marketing campaigns and 43% that tested images.

61% of respondents said that testing has helped improve the overall site experience for consumers, while 57% said testing has led to increased conversion rates, and 32% built better search programs and landing pages as a result of testing (respondents could select more than one category). Retailers active in on-site testing said aspects most impacted by the practice were an improved user experience, increase in site conversion, search results and navigation refinement.  The testing method most preferred by merchants was A/B testing, which displays different content or images to test which produces the desired result most often.

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