February 11, 2014, 12:36 PM

A book wholesaler shelves its old web site and boosts conversions by 40%

BookPal’s new site features live pricing calculations on web pages to help shoppers placing bulk orders see final costs.

Amy Dusto

Associate Editor

Lead Photo

Tony DiCostanzo

A year ago, on a good day for book wholesaler BookPal LLC, a shopper might order as much as $2,000 online, says president Tony DiCostanzo. Today, $5,000 orders are common, and the site’s conversion rate is up by 40%, he says.

“As simple as the sale of books is, when you start dealing with it in the business-to-business environment, it takes on a whole new dimension,” DiCostanzo says. BookPal, which requires a minimum order of 25 copies, discounts prices in tiers depending on the number of books and the title, he says. “We were really struggling to communicate that as simply as possible on our previous platform,” he says. “People were abandoning too much.”

The old site, built on e-commerce platform from Volusion Inc., was able to display only the final cost of a bulk order in the cart during checkout, not on the product pages as a shopper browsed, DiCostanzo says.

In contrast, a product page on the new Book-Pal.com lays out clearly in a table the bulk pricing tiers, with per-unit costs and discounts according to the order size range. As a shopper types different amounts of copies for that book into a box next to the table, it automatically highlights the appropriate pricing tier with a label reading, “your price.” Above the table, the new subtotal for the order also updates as the order size changes. The new e-commerce site was built on eBay Inc.’s Magento Enterprise platform by Magento-certified web development firm Gorilla Group.

In the first 90 days after the site went live last April, the improvements boosted average order values by 19%, BookPal says. Bounce rates—which measure the percentage of consumers who leave the site after visiting only one page—also dropped by 15%. About 60% of BookPal’s sales come from the web, with the rest via mail order or phone, DiCostanzo says.

On product pages, shoppers can also fill out a form to request BookPal to match the price of another seller, select an item and compare it side-by-side with others, or save the item to buy later. The product comparisons tool is uniquely suited for B2B, DiCostanzo adds, because it helps a shopper to quickly pull up and see in a table the differences between various formats of books as well as various titles. For instance, a Shakespeare play might come in several lengths of abridgements, with or without translations, by different translators—all factors the head of a high school department head might find crucial to the selection.

The new site also offers an advanced search tool that can narrow a few million titles to one or two books based on a single typed-in phrase. For instance, a customer can enter in the site search window “To Kill a Mockingbird” and only get results related to that book, instead of also getting results about books on mockingbirds and killers or creeks referred to as kills, says John Budz, senior e-commerce consultant at Gorilla.

The retailer selected Magento because it is an easy platform to use and grow with, DiCostanzo says. When BookPal needs to handle more web traffic or transactions in the future, it can simply request that Gorilla, which also hosts the site, allot more server space to it.

Magento also provides extensions from other developers preconfigured to plug into the platform, which allows BookPal to quickly add new features and functions. For example, the retailer added an extension from e-mail marketing vendor Bronto Software to capture customers’ e-mail addresses and send them messages based on their site behavior or shopping histories, he says. Another extension, from sales tax software provider Avalara Inc., provides accurate sales tax rates in the shopping cart, he says.

“Web sites are like houses, there’s always work to be done,” DiCostanzo says. His staff communicates with Gorilla at least every other day by phone or e-mail, he says. The development firm handles everything from minor display changes to building new functionality. For example, in two months BookPal will debut the ability to order digital books in bulk, and it will offer mobile reading apps that Gorilla is designing, he says.

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