No matter the product, great design depends on customers’ desires

December 6, 2011 03:40 PM

Building a web site that stands out from the crowd requires retailers to know what customers want and then designing a site that meets and surpasses their expectations, says W.W. Grainger Inc. vice president of e-commerce Paul Miller.

At the 2012 Internet Retailer Web Site Design and Usability Conference in Orlando, FL, Miller will deliver a keynote address entitled  “Exceeding the expectations of today's online shopper: Drafting a winning blueprint.” He is scheduled to speak on Feb. 14 from 8:30 a.m. to 9 a.m.

He says there is a direct correlation between building a gift registry for an upscale housewares and cookware e-commerce site such as—where he previously worked—and a business-to-business e-commerce site such as that carries more than 1 million maintenance, repair and overhaul products. An online gift registry that matches the wish list of an engaged couple with easy-to-use features and prices that wedding guests find appealing, for instance, needs to meet the same customer expectations held by purchasing agents and small business owners who need to reorder products quickly.

“All great designs begin with knowing the customer’s intent,” says Miller. “It all starts with figuring out who they are and what they want and need.”

At Grainger, No. 15 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, Miller has worked to increase revenue and build traffic by overseeing the design and implementations of new site functions. Those include a tool that enables shoppers to click to call or chat, and a customer registry that lets users create and save specific products lists, expedite online ordering, see detailed pricing and review order status. By the end of 2011, Grainger, which generated e-commerce sales of $1.8 billion in 2010, also expects to have a mobile commerce site.

“Understanding what the customer wants is a big priority, but equally important is knowing how they want to buy and developing all of the necessary delivery channels,” says Miller.

Exceeding customer expectations with a superior web site design also requires flexibility, says Miller. During his keynote presentation, he will discuss how Grainger uses a concept known as “agile development” to make design changes that deliver results in weeks instead of months and years. “We have daily ‘scrum meetings’ where we can talk about doable design priorities that we can accomplish quickly,” says Miller. “Agility is what we strive for.”

During his keynote address Miller also will tell attendees how they can set their own priorities for achieving a superior design. “Inject the customer into everything you want to do,” he says.

Internet Retailer asked Miller to give the keynote address because he is a highly accomplished senior e-commerce executive. Miller is vice president of U.S. e-commerce for Grainger, North America's leading broadline supplier of maintenance, repair and operating products. He manages Grainger's e-commerce strategies. Prior to joining Grainger, he led a startup division of Enservio, a venture-backed company serving property insurance carriers. Previously, he was senior vice president, direct commerce, for Sears Holding Corp., where he was in charge of Internet and catalog activities. He also was vice president of e-commerce for Williams-Sonoma.




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