February 13, 2012, 1:38 PM

IRWD 2012: Home pages must change as e-commerce evolves

For instance, incorporating social media is emerging as a best practice.

Lead Photo

E-commerce home pages, once the doorway to a site, have a different role today, with  many shoppers bypassing  home pages as search and other referral sources deliver them to product pages.  But that doesn’t mean the home page can be ignored because some of a site’s most loyal customers still navigate directly to its home page.  

Designers have to walk a delicate line as they design their home page so that it serves shoppers both familiar with, and those not familiar with, a retailer’s site, said David Wachter, senior vice president of e-commerce and direct marketing at JimmyJazz.com and ManAlive.com, today at Internet Retailer’s Web Design and Usability Conference 2012 in Orlando, FL.

A few of the basic best practices for building a home page that serves both types of shoppers includes design that emphasizes the site’s value proposition and special offers, displays examples of content visitors will find deeper in the site and uses meaningful graphics, he said.

Though a show of hands indicated only about 10% of the audience currently personalize their site’s home page, it’s one of the best ways to turn customers into repeat shoppers, Wachter said. He noted a recent Forrester Research Inc. study that found 62% of those surveyed said personalization of retail sites was useful when shopping online. “The platinum rule of e-commerce is to treat others the way they want to be treated,” he said.

Best practices in home page personalization are still evolving, Wachter said, but they already include incorporating on the page items that the shopper has recently viewed, as well as product recommendations  personalized to the shopper.

Wachter noted that the use of social media is emerging as a key element in e-commerce.  “Social commerce is the next best practice we are going to have to incorporate on our home pages,” he said.

In the same session, speaker Blake Ellis, chief executive officer of cloud-based e-commerce platform Commerce V3, traced the evolution of the home pages of several sites over the years to highlight how best practices in design have changed and where they’re headed in the future. Ellis reviewed 1996 home pages for Lands’ End and Amazon, noting, for example, that at that time, branding was minimal and the full online catalog was not well-integrated with the home page. By 2001, however, much of the way consumers shop online today already was reflected on the home pages of both sites, with Lands’ End featuring the ability to shop by category, and Amazon’s home page touting best sellers.

Later evolutions of both sites’ home pages bought personalized recommendations, the greater use of text-based links to better capture specific terms searched by consumers, and later, the emergence of hero images at page center.

“What this tells us as designers is that we need to reinvent ourselves with the evolution of e-commerce,” Ellis said.

 In the future, effective home page design will increasingly depend on data from analytics testing as an overlay to principles of good design, he added.”We need to pay attention to the math,” he said. “We need to become testers. Using a red button versus a green button will still be a fun discussion to have, but we will be making almost all of these decisions by going to these tools.”

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