February 16, 2011, 8:56 AM

If at first you don’t succeed, test and test again

Early tests disproved an e-retailer’s assumptions at WineoftheMonthClub.com.

Lead Photo

Tom Funk at IRWD 2011

A good mantra for WineoftheMonthClub.com and its site designers may well be, “If at first you don’t succeed, test and test again.” The e-retailer sought design help from e-commerce veteran Tom Funk when he worked at design and marketing consultancy Timberline Interactive. Funk explained how his early page designs, when tested, fell flat with the e-retailer’s customer base during his afternoon presentation titled “Web design smackdown” Tuesday at the Internet Retailer Web Design & Usability Conference.

Funk’s first home page design, which he says he thought was pretty good, bombed. The page drove 4.6% fewer conversions than the existing design. “I thought, ‘Oh, no, why did I screw up Paul’s web site,” Funk says of WineoftheMonthClub.com’s president Paul Kalemkiarian Jr.

Funk and his design team went back to the drawing board and reexamined the page design. As they did, they noticed a few things they’d missed earlier. For example, the site worked with a standard four-column grid, but WineoftheMonthClub.com only sold three types of subscription packages, which left the fourth column blank. To a new user, Funk reasoned, this could look like the page hadn’t finished loading and imply an error.

Second, Funk said, the ‘buy now’ buttons appeared perhaps too boldly near the top of the page, asking for a purchase before a consumer had the opportunity to explore their buying options. “It was like asking for marriage on the first date. We were coming on too strong,” Funk said.

A second go at the home page changed the design to a three-column grid, provided more information up front and cleared out some visual clutter. It also made text links more apparent. Funk says text links may be considered old-fashioned, but they do work. Funk and WineoftheMonthClub.com scored with a second round of testing. In a face-off between the original home page design and the second test page, the test page improved conversions by 12.8%.

Funk also showed the audience how he redesigned the e-retailer’s checkout pages to improve conversions by 6.2%. Changes that moved the needle included adding a progress bar along the top of the page so consumers could see where they were in the payment process. The site also placed the “submit order” button on two locations on the final order page, one button at the top of the page and the second at the bottom where such buttons typically appear. The first button placement was to show consumers that they still had one more step to take before an order was complete, since the button below wasn’t visible without scrolling down the page. “Some people might think their order is complete when they see the order and payment summary,” Funk observed. “But the button shows them they have to take one more step.”

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