February 1, 2012, 12:00 AM

February Survey: Web Site Design And Usability

Retailers have mobile in mind as they embark upon e-commerce site redesigns.

Lead Photo

Many retailers are going to have a busy year ahead as they make plans to redesign their web sites, adding features and functions to entice consumers to visit more often and make purchases. Knowing that consumers are increasingly accessing their sites from mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, merchants are taking that trend into account as they spruce up their sites, according to Internet Retailer's latest survey.

Topping many site design wish lists is better search engine optimization, with 55.5% of respondents citing that goal, followed by 53.6% who want to improve the home, category and product pages to make it easier for consumers to find products. 50% want to improve cross-selling and upselling features, 48.2% are seeking cleaner navigation, 44.5% want a speedier and more intuitive site search, 41.8% aim to improve personalization, and 31.8% want to add or enhance social features. 30% want their redesigned sites to have a faster checkout process and 26.4% plan to add bigger and more attractive images.

A big chunk of respondents— 44.5%—say adding or developing more mobile commerce features and apps is a design priority this year. And they're taking mobile devices into account in how they approach redesigning their standard e-commerce sites.

Eyes on iPad

63.3% of e-retailers surveyed by Internet Retailer are considering redesigning their web sites so they render better on tablets, like the iPad. While only a minority, 41.7%, of catalog retailers are focusing on tablets in their design plans, those numbers go up significantly for other types of web retailers: 73.9% of chain retailers, 62.3% of web-only merchants and 69.2% of manufacturers that sell online say they will have tablets in mind with as they redesign their sites.

"It's the advent of mobile and the tablet," says Nate Ende, vice president of e-commerce at Trinity Insight LLC, an e-commerce consulting firm. As more e-retail executives visit their e-commerce sites on tablet devices, many are realizing that their sites are not overly appealing to shoppers using devices like the iPad, which is spurring some redesigns this year, he says.

Of those redesigning their sites with tablets in mind, 39.1% want to create a single site that renders differently depending on the device, 24.5% aim to rework site navigation for touchscreens and 17.3% will remove from their sites Flash, the Adobe Inc. technology widely used on the web to display video and animation, but which does not render on such Apple Inc. devices as the iPhone and iPad. In addition, 15.5% plan to pare down the existing e-commerce site and 3.6% have other goals in mind. Internet Retailer received 110 responses to the survey from readers of its IRNewsLink newsletter. The survey was conducted in December in conjunction with marketing and survey technology provider Vovici Corp.

Responsive design

Consumers' embrace of tablets is leading some web designers to a new approach called responsive web design, says Seth Whitton, senior designer at Alexander Interactive, a web design and marketing firm. The idea is to build a core web design that can be adapted easily to various devices, Whitton says.

This approach is gaining favor because consumers are using a wider variety of devices to access e-retail sites, Whitton says. Typically, web designers have one set of rules to work with when designing desktop sites and another for a mobile commerce site, such as one designed for tablets or smartphones. And because computers, smartphones and tablets do not share common hardware and software, it's challenging to design a site that has a uniform look and functionality, Whitton says. Responsive web design, already adopted by such retailers as King Arthur Flour and Abercrombie & Fitch (see story on page 26), can alleviate some of the hassle of creating a site that looks good on a variety of devices, he says.

The consumer view

Given the proliferation of mobile devices, it's no surprise that many e-retailers—53.6% in this survey—realize the lack of a mobile commerce site or app is a drawback. Mobile is especially important because many consumers do not see an e-retailer's mobile site as distinct from its e-commerce site, says Jeff Lesko, creative director at Lyons Consulting Group. "The e-commerce and mobile commerce sites are thought of as together," Lesko says. Recognizing this, retailers are approaching Lesko's firm seeking guidance on how to design sites for both desktop and mobile devices.

Other shortcomings e-retailers hope to address with their site redesigns include limited advanced features, cited by 38.2%, poor search engine optimization, 34.5%, poor navigation controls, 29.1%, no video, 20.9%, no social media or blogs, 19.1%, poor checkout flow, 18.2%, and poor visibility of Add to Cart buttons and other calls to action, 14.5%.

More sales is the reason most cited for redesigning an e-commerce site, at 43.6%, but other goals are not far behind. Among survey respondents, 42.7% want to attract more visitors and shoppers with their redesigns, 40.9% expect to improve their conversion rates, 34.5% hope to improve customer service, 29.1% want to reduce shopping cart abandonment, 20% aim to generate multichannel sales and 17.3% plan to increase average ticket size.

Aside from major redesigns, e-retailers can make small changes that help consumers, says Trinity Insights' Ende. For example, retailers can benefit from testing the size of a quantity selection box. While a smaller box may work fine when a consumer uses a mouse to click it on a desktop computer, it may need to be larger to accommodate a finger on a touchscreen, he says. Making the box larger, he says, would make it easier to see on a desktop PC, and easier to use on a touchscreen device.

Despite the priority given to web site redesign, e-retailers appear to have limited budgets and short timelines. Most e-retailers—71.2%—anticipate spending no more than $50,000 for their site redesigns this year.

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