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Jan 08, 2009
How To

Borders’ ‘Magic Shelf’ Mimics In-Store Browsing Online; Conversion Rate 62%

SUMMARY: Bring to your website a feature that customers love about your brick-and-mortar store. You won’t need magic.

See how an ebusiness marketer for Borders integrated an online browsing system that mimics shopping in their bookstores. Those customers convert about 62% higher.
Kevin Ertell, SVP E-Business, Borders, was told that he could start his ecommerce strategy from scratch in July 2006. A multi-year partnership that prevented the bookstore chain from selling products on their website was ending.

Ertell and his team needed a new website and a strategy ready for the moment the partnership ended. The result: They brought online an experience most bookstore shoppers adore – browsing the shelves to see what covers and titles grab them.

“One thing we knew was our customers love shopping in our stores. And we also found that more than half of them didn’t know specifically what they wanted to buy. They knew they wanted to get something to read, but weren’t sure exactly what. They like to come in the store and browse around to see what caught their eye,” Ertell says.

Ertell’s team launched the “Magic Shelf” as part of their new website last May to capture part of that in-store experience. The tool looks like a bookshelf and lets visitors browse books, DVDs and CDs by their covers – just like in a store.

“That has been a hit,” Ertell says. “Customers who engage with the Magic Shelf convert about 62% higher than those who do not engage with the Magic Shelf.”

The six steps Ertell’s team took to develop the browsing system, get valuable feedback and integrate their channels to convert more visitors:

Step #1: Establish guidelines

Ertell put together a team to launch their ecommerce site and integrate it with the stores. They started meeting 18 months before the partnership that was preventing them from selling from their website ended. They wanted the new site to be:
o Intuitive
o Innovative
o Similar to the real bookstore experience

Their talks focused on why customers loved the Borders’ in-store experience and how to capture some of that value and bring it online. Throughout their discussions, the idea of using a bookshelf kept surfacing. This fit into being intuitive and innovative, since bookshelves are easily understood and rarely used in e-retail.

Step #2: Choose key components

Ertell and his team brainstormed, built wireframe website maps and picked the key components of a Magic Shelf to be featured at the top of the homepage. Among its features:
o Product images arranged on categorized shelves
o Product images linked to descriptions and ecommerce buttons
o Left-hand navigation and arrow buttons for moving along the shelf
o Suggested products that adjust to the customers’ browsing and purchase history
o “What is this?” link that explains the shelf

Ertell’s team wanted the shelf to be so intuitive that consumers would almost never need the “What is this?” link. Indeed, after launch, the “What is this?” link only said: “up, down, left and right - you’ll find good stuff any way you browse the Magic Shelf, plus books, music and movies picked just for you.”

The planning process took about six months, after which they started to build the shelf. After they built a portion of the browsing tool, the team held a group “show and tell.” Key people in the process were shown the progress and asked for feedback. Necessary changes were made, and the project pushed forward.

Step #3: Integrate with the channels

Ertell’s team further integrated the online and offline channels by adding two capabilities:

o Reserve a product
Before the site was legally allowed to sell products, they had a beta launch. When customers found a product they liked, they could reserve it and go to a store to purchase it.

o Ship to store
After the site had ecommerce capability, customers could buy a product and decide to pick it up in the store without having to pay shipping costs.

Ertell was surprised by the response to the ship-to-store option, and says it gained traction in both urban and suburban areas.

Step #4: Set up beta launch

As the Magic Shelf neared completion, Ertell and his team launched a beta version before the partnership ended. They were able to test the shelf and solicit feedback.

Visitors to Borders’ beta website were able to:
o Browse products by their appearance
o Reserve products for in-store purchase
o Create wish lists
o Write and read product reviews
o Check a Borders Rewards balance
o Watch videos

“It was really a full site except that you couldn’t actually conclude an ecommerce transaction,” Ertell says.

Step #5: Get customer feedback

Customer feedback on the beta version helped refine the tool before the full launch last May. Ertell’s team gathered customer feedback through:
o Pop-up surveys with both, rating and open-ended questions
o Posts on Gather, an online social network for people over 30
o Feedback from customers trying the shelf on laptops in the store
o Email sent to Borders’ rewards database asking for feedback

Through feedback and testing, Ertell and his team refined the Magic Shelf’s usability, design and navigation up until the launch. They did not use advertising to drive traffic to the site.

Step #6: Two-step launch

The Magic Shelf first went live with ecommerce capability in May. Ertell and his team limited publicity to press releases. They didn’t want to drive too much traffic to a new website and tool too quickly, which could have overwhelmed their IT folks.

A full promotional campaign ran in July. They promoted the new site through:
o Email to the rewards database
o Direct mail to the rewards database
o Search marketing display ads
o Revenue-sharing affiliate program

The messaging emphasized that the new website was “a real bookstore online” and that consumers should “experience” and “explore” the new, Ertell says.

Useful links related to this article:

Magic Shelf Creative Samples:

Allurent: Agency that helped design the new site

Borders Beta at Gather


See Also:

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