'Click-me' content

Keeping customers engaged is a top design goal.

Amy Dusto

Some retailers relaunch their e-commerce sites with a sparkling new layout and innovative features and functions periodically, maybe every few years. For others, a web site is a constant work in progress. Either way, creating compelling content that keeps customers engaged and coming back for more—ultimately driving sales and higher customer lifetime value—is a priority for e-retailers of all types and sizes.

Galls.com, an online merchant that sells public safety gear and apparel, overhauled how it designs its e-mail marketing messages over the last two years, said Marvin Toller, the retailer's business marketing analyst, in his IRCE presentation. The revamp drove much improved results. In 2012, only 10.2% of the customers Galls.com sent promotional e-mails to opened the messages. In 2014, 75.1% of customers regularly open them. The primary differences are that now e-mail messages feature many more products—sometimes as many as 30, up from about three—and those products are targeted to the recipient based on data Galls.com has about him, such as his previous purchases, employment information and location. Nearly a quarter of Galls.com sales today stem from these e-mail interactions, Toller said.

Kitchen and cookware retail chain Sur La Table Inc. implemented several design changes that spurred sales, said senior vice president of digital Kevin Ertell. Last year the retailer added a new site search tool from vendor Oracle Corp. that provides personalized product results for each shopper. It also added a new social media feature to its e-commerce site called "My Collections" that lets customers shop for their favorite cooking or kitchen item, see similar items other shoppers have purchased, create a collection based on the results, and then share the collection with family and friends on Facebook and Pinterest.

"We wanted to bring some aspects of social media to the site because we can use this as a tool to generate transactions," Ertell said, elaborating on his IRCE presentation with Wade Gerten, CEO of 8th Bridge Inc. And it did: Sur La Table in 2013 grew its web sales by 104.2% to $56.8 million, making it one of the fastest-growing web merchants in the 2014 Top 500 Guide.

Retailers this year have also been taking steps to make it easier for shoppers to share products via social media. Baking goods e-retailer KingArthurFlour.com makes a point of formatting photographs on its site to fit the size and style popular on social network Pinterest, and digital marketing manager Aime Schwartz told attendees the e-retailer made a point to optimize the Pin It button on the site. Making photos attractive and easy to share are two reasons why Pinterest now refers about 11% of KingArthurFlour.com's traffic.

Not all web designs that engage customers are about social media or personalizing the web site display. Often, it is about being accessible and usable. Web design firm and IRCE exhibitor Grand River at its booth showcased its design for WendoverArt.com, a B2B e-retailer and manufacturer that sells art to the retail, hospitality and interior design industries. The recently launched WendoverArt.com adapts the page display to fit the screen the visitor is using. It was built following responsive design principles—another hot topic of conversation at IRCE.