IRWD 2012: Web design best practices begin with consumers

February 15, 2012 09:57 AM

The best place to start when designing an e-commerce site is to determine what consumers expect from the site, said Todd Luckey, senior user experience specialist at Usability Sciences Corp., this week at the Internet Retailer Web Design & Usability 2012 Conference in Orlando, FL.

Nearly 61% of retailers that participated in a recent Internet Retailer survey said they plan to redesign their site this year. And those merchants need a set of principles to follow in that process.  

Luckey, whose firm specializes in web site usability consulting, and Mike Sidders, vice president of e-commerce at retail chain Shopko Stores Operating Co., said that ascertaining consumers’ goals requires a retailer to gather a lot of data, which then must be analyzed. Shopko is No. 550 in Internet Retailer’s Second 500 Guide.

However, data can’t just be the purview of data specialists, Sidders said. “Your designers and developers need to get into the data and understand what changes to the site mean,” Sidders said.

Retailers also have to ensure that a consumer, regardless of her entry point to an e-commerce site, can easily find important pages within the site. For example, Shopko, a regional retailer, has put special emphasis on its pharmacy and optical businesses, Sidders says. He added links for those respective sections to a navigation header so they appear even if a product detail page for an unrelated item is the consumer’s first view on the Shopko site.

Then, when a new web site element is ready, the next step is to test it. “What should you be testing? Everything you can,” Sidders said.

Merchants need to ensure that their call to action comes at the right time. E-retailers should not forget that closing a sale requires a series of steps: getting a consumer’s attention, creating interest in a product, generating desire for the product, and ultimately, motivating the consumer to take action, Luckey said. “For a customer to do anything on your web site, he will have to flow through that continuum,” Luckey said.

E-retailers also should incorporate social networks, like Facebook and Pinterest when appropriate, Sidders said. Other design principles to incorporate include assessing how the site will appear on mobile devices, getting the best out of search engine optimization and learning from others, including competitors, to determine if a site element might be worth emulating.

Nathan Decker, head of e-commerce at outdoor goods e-retailer Evo, applied many of these tips when Evo made adjustments to its web site last year after finding that consumers were placing items in their shopping carts just to get a little more information about them. Doing so let them view the prices in one location. But then many customers abandoned the carts, he said.

Evo, No. 405 in the Top 500 Guide, focused in on finding a product comparison tool. When no suitable vendor products were found, Decker said Evo built its own, which allowed for a high degree of customization. Consumers visiting the site can now compare as many items as they choose using the tool.

The result was an 18% decrease in service calls and e-mails from consumers about the lack of a comparison tool since the tool’s January 2011 debut, Decker said. And now, while only 3% of Evo consumers use the tool, they account for 13% of the site’s revenue, he said.

Decker followed a basic process in developing the product comparison tool. He identified the opportunity, then validated that the fix would work. Then he put the corrective measure into place and measured the results.

E-retailer, an underwear apparel company led by Matt Butlein, its president, also started with the consumer when it set out to develop a bra-fitting service for full-busted women.

Consumers using the At Home Bra Fitting service have a telephone consultation with a service representative who then sends the shopper a selection of bras that might meet her needs. The customer gets to try them on at home for a week and can schedule another telephone consultation if she likes. She sends back the bras she does not want—shipping and returns are free—and only pays for the ones she keeps, Butlein said.

The e-retailer used what Butlein calls a thesis-driven split testing model to help prove the worth of new ideas for the site. In trying to find how could increase conversions, the retailer identified reasons why consumers browse for bras online, but ultimately don’t make a purchase. It identified that bra sizing and fit were key issues, especially for full-figured women. Having identified the issues, it came up with a variety of ideas that might help solve them, and then implemented and tested them. Ideas come from all over the organization, such as from site analytics, survey results and customer service agents. The company also gathers ideas from customers via post-purchase surveys and social media.

“We start with the why,” Butlein said. “For us, we want men and women to look their best in apparel underwear.”






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