For seven years, tens of thousands of products sat gathering dust on Jamestown Distributors’ Web site.
Sure, Marketing VP Michael Mills and his team updated the site regularly when new products arrived, but there was no relationship between what viewers clicked on and what SKUs were brought foreward. On the home page, they manually set product ranking to place new products above the fold for better visibility.
Although they had access to loads of data, they didn’t have time to analyze the reports on a regular basis so they could manually re-rank their product relevancy based on inventory, popularity and conversion rates.
And being a traditional business-to-business company for more than two decades, an international crowd of boating aficionados and hobbyists was flocking to the site because of their hard-to-find boat building and marine supplies product line. Mills knew it was time for a serious merchandising upgrade. CAMPAIGN
"We didn't have a good Web site," Mills says. "When people came in through SEO or Google AdWords, they could have been anybody. It might have been a commercial builder or some guy looking to buy some paint so he can fix up his kayak. We needed to make the site better for acquiring customers from our [pool] of visitors."
So, they dedicated the eight months leading into spring 2006 to upgrade Jamestown’s back-end system. Here are the five steps they took:
-> Step #1. Automate the merchandising process
To be clear, at this time last year, JamestownDistributors.com did little to no targeting. Essentially, they placed the best-selling products on the home page and stopped there. While Mills envisioned doing targeting such as promoting items based on previous shopping carts, his first goal was to simply improve site-wide merchandising through automation.
"While we didn't need to be an Amazon or J.C. Penney, we still were working toward improving our site so it better served customers and increased sales," he says.
Since Mills was pleased with their performance in terms of arranging the hottest products based on sales, he left the home page alone. Instead, he concentrated on making product selections inside the categories and subcategories more intuitive. He also wanted a system that would turn product info presentation into a more fluid process.
"We are not selling sandals and sunglasses," he says. "One of the things we sell is hazardous paints, so having the [chemicals] sheets available online is something huge that we have to deal with. It's tricky having this information organized so people know what exactly to buy once we get them to the product. And we needed to find ways of getting them to what they were looking for in a more intelligent fashion."
-> Step #2. Rank products internally by importance
In many cases, do-it-yourself consumers searched for items they heard about from a friend or neighbor. So, Mills set up the system so every product was automatically ranked according to four criteria, in descending order of importance:
- Onsite queries
- Page views
- Product freshness
For example, visitors who clicked on Power Tools on the home page were brought to 16 product selections stacked in four rows according to their popularity at that time. The user could then refine the selections within several different brands and/or types. If a user clicked on the W.L. Fuller brand, he or she would get back a page with two larger, highlighted products and 15 others stacked in rows of three below.
All of the results in the main and subcategories had product images that competed for the top slots within the system. Items less than two-months old automatically received extra weight in the rule-based program. "We didn't want our new products getting buried," Mills explains. "They need a chance to establish themselves."
Interestingly, the merchandising didn’t arrange by price -- many of the top items cost as little as $3.99 or as much as $79.99.
-> Step #3. Upgrade back-end support
The next logical step was to implement a forecasting program that would let viewers know when popular items were out of stock.
"We didn't have a good back end," Mills says. "It was important for us to upgrade that part of the business so the benefits that existed on the site could be maximized.”
-> Step #4. Empower call center reps
Mills also found an opportunity to use the Web site to educate representatives in their 10-seat call center about the distinct lines of products, as well as about the cultural lingo of boat building.
-> Step #5. Marketing and IT hand-in-hand
In the project’s final six weeks before launch, Mills held a teleconference every Monday morning to connect team members at different domestic and international locations. Also, in-person meetings took place at the beginning and end of the process.
"With so much communication on the project being done remotely, it was important to see each other face to face so we knew we were all on the same page," he says. "We had to get the right metrics together, deal with applications schema and cookie code and write programs that connected data together."
Well, it didn't take long for the bottom line to show results -- Mills’ team managed to double their conversion rates and increase their average order size 23.5%.
“One thing I've learned is that if you don't have an excellent database system, everything else you do might not matter," he says.
Also, the system was a boon for the call center reps.
"Having a better Web site has taught our staffers more about the products," he says. "Since the site is getting merchandised automatically, the phone reps can type in a product query and tell the customer what the top players in the niche are as well as the product's important details."
Because of the effectiveness of the system, they were able to eliminate one full-time inventory management position.Useful links related to this article
Creative samples from Jamestown Distributors:
Mercado Software - the technology firm behind Jamestown's merchandising overhaul:
FireClick - an analytics firm that teamed with Mills and Mercado in the effort:
Intuit Eclipse - provided inventory software: