August 01, 2007
Case Study

How Peer Analysis Led to Navigation Changes & 31% Lift in Conversions - Before & After

SUMMARY: Onsite search and navigation will likely be critical elements to ecommerce sites as long as people use the Internet. That’s why marketing teams always keep a close eye on what their competitors are testing.

A beauty products retailer took this competitive analysis to a whole new level. After three months of steady cross-niche performance studies, they made several navigation changes to their site and ended up increasing conversions 31%. Includes before-and-after samples.
“We wanted to find out where we stood when compared to industry peers,” says Shannon Glass, Director Internet Operations, Bath & Body Works. “We needed to learn where we fell short so we could focus our resources on those areas for improvement. And while we had all the goals in the world, we were only one year into ecommerce and didn’t know if they were realistic.”

Unlike many companies with a decade of self-reflective ecommerce benchmarking at their disposal, Glass headed a division that had been selling direct online since only October 2005. She thought they were headed in the right direction but wanted to make sure that their recent start from ground zero was competitive with other notable retailers. She and her team knew they would need to redesign some areas of the site.

Before they did anything, they examined their position in the beauty and health niche as well as the eretail space as a whole. Then, they compiled a list of nine beauty/health competitors and 167 etailers to compare against. Those firms were selected because they rated similarly when it came to monthly site traffic, average order sizes, overall revenue and other metrics. To maintain anonymity, individual companies weren’t identified in the comparison; instead, each company was assigned a number.

After three months of running comparative tests, the data revealed that they were outperforming most competitors in terms of referral sites/affiliates conversions. However, deficiencies were found in their navigation, onsite search and product pages. Here are the four steps they followed to fix those areas:

-> Step #1. Rename category tabs

The weak navigability performance led them to look at the category names on their homepage. From here, they dug through their onsite search queries and found several product words and phrases being used by site visitors weren’t among the category names.

The homepage originally had nine categories:
o Bath & Shower
o Body Moisturizers
o Hand & Foot Care
o Facial Skincare
o Hair Care
o Spa & Aromatherapy
o Candles & Home
o Gifts
o Sale & Specials

They simplified, renamed and dropped two categories:
o Bath & Body
o Face
o Hair
o Spa
o Home & Candles
o Gifts
o Sale

-> Step #2. Rename & divide subcategories

In the left-hand nav bar on the category pages, they discovered that other terminology shifts in the consumer marketplace had occurred, so they renamed some subcategories and added other subcategories to be more specific and reduce search time:

o Body Splash was renamed Body Spray
o ‘Shower Gels’ was divided into ‘Cleansers’ and ‘Powders’
o Eight pages of ‘Antibacterial’ items were made into specific sections called ‘Gels’ and ‘Soaps’

While this change meant that viewers sometimes had to scroll farther down before finding the right button, Glass was convinced it gave them a faster click path to the product pages. “We also inserted some broadly named categories that helped customers cut to the chase like ‘What’s New’ and ‘Brands.’ ”

-> Step #3. Optimize product pages

On individual product pages, Glass and her team moved three features slightly higher on the page to make sure they were above the fold:
o Add to Bag
o Add to Wish List
o Send to a Friend

-> Step #4. Monitor onsite keyword usage

Finally, the peer analysis data influenced Glass to pay more attention to their onsite search trends so they could capitalize on when people searched for specific words. When such terms increased in usage, such as “frizzy hair” during the summer months, they made sure to reposition those products to capitalize on the trend.
Even though Glass says they’ve only unearthed the tip of the iceberg so far, there’s little question that the peer-comparison evaluation paid off. Since the changes were implemented, their average order size has increased by “double-digit percentages.”

Customers are finding products faster pace, too. “Onsite search has really improved, which is huge because it’s a key sales driver for us. Every part of the process has contributed to the improving data we’ve seen.” Indeed, the work on product language, page design and navigation yielded a 31% increase in conversions for their onsite search feature.

In addition, moving up the add to cart, wish list and email a friend features also gave each of the climbing statistics an extra boost. The initiative to use onsite search query analysis for product forecasting/merchandising has come in a winner, helping contribute to a 13% lift in visitors who reach a product page (rather than giving up on the homepage or a category page).

Although Glass is happy with what they learned, she also offered a few cautionary words: “It’s important in this style of comparative study to be smart about the data you are looking at because you can overact to things without recognizing the key variances that could point your outlook in another direction.”

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from Bath & Body Works' navigation changes:

Coremetrics Inc. - spearheaded Bath & Body Works’ comparison study and helped with site changes:

Bath & Body Works:

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