June 20, 2011, 4:27 PM

IRCE 2011 Report: How merchandisers can balance data and their own insights

Patagonia’s Kevin Churchill discussed the importance of testing e-commerce ideas.

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While busy merchandisers may feel like they don’t have time to test ideas, making the time is well worth their while, Kevin Churchill, director of e-commerce at Patagonia, told attendees at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition 2011 last week during a session entitled “The changing role of the online merchant: Art vs. science.”

“Testing is so important,” said Churchill. “Make testing part of your planning process.”

As the role of merchandisers evolve, they have to balance the abundance of data now available to e-retailers along with their instincts about the brand, he said.

Testing is an important way for retailers gain insights, he said.  As an example, Churchill said the outdoor apparel retailer tested how to display free shipping on its checkout page. The retailer offers free shipping on orders over $75. The company found that displaying the word FREE, as opposed to a shipping cost of $0.00, lifted conversion 20%.

Patagonia, which Churchill says has annual online sales of about $85 million, also tested how the live chat box appears on its e-commerce site. The company, which uses chat technology from LivePerson, was thinking about changing the basic chat box to a more visual one with images of mountain climbers and copy that read “Sometimes it helps to have a guide.”  Churchill thought the latter would appeal to the adventurous spirit of shoppers. However, in fact, 25% of shoppers dropped out from the box that had the mountain climber compared with the simpler version. “It’s okay to fail when you test, but it is important to adapt after you fail,” he said.

Merchandisers can also gain valuable insight from customer reviews, he said. At Patagonia, product designers receive alerts whenever customer feedback is posted on the site. “This has been phenomenal for us,” Churchill said. “It has become part of our culture.”

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