March 31, 2010
How To

Use Research to Guide an Ecommerce Site Redesign: 5 Tactics to Pinpoint Needed Improvements

SUMMARY: Redesigning your website can help boost its performance, but only if you’re making the right changes. The research you put into your redesign will ultimately determine if you’re making the right decisions -- so make sure you’re researching well.

See the five key areas a team from American Greetings Interactive looked at to redesign a recently-acquired photo publishing site. Includes a list of 50 ecommerce site features used to help guide their decisions.
Dawn Wayt, VP, Ecommerce Marketing, American Greetings Interactive, and her team had a big project in early 2008. The American Greetings Corporation had acquired PhotoWorks, a leading consumer photo sharing and publishing company, and Wayt’s team had to overhaul its website.

The team started by looking at the website’s analytics and doing a few usability tests -- and the news was not good.

"We knew after conducting this research that we had major challenges in terms of overall branding and communicating that this was a brand you could trust," Wayt says.

Realizing that major changes were needed, Wayt’s team took a careful, research-driven approach to the redesign. They gathered information from numerous sources and used it to fix current features and design potential new ones.

The team launched the new site in October and the impact of their research was clear: By December, the team’s biggest sales month, site conversion rate increased 56% year-over-year. They had fewer promotions running in January yet still noticed a 15% higher conversion rate year-over-year.

Below, Wayt shares five research tactics that proved instrumental in guiding the team to a successful redesign.

Tactic #1. Study industry data

The previous PhotoWorks site lacked several common ecommerce features: It didn’t have a site search tool, and the team found the site’s merchandising platform inflexible and cumbersome.

But rather than assuming they knew what features to add, the team sought research on what consumers expect from ecommerce sites and what other ecommerce sites were doing.

Earlier that year, Wayt participated in an ecommerce survey that tracked:
o What features merchants had on their sites
o The merchants' perceived value of these features
o Other trends

By participating, Wayt received a free copy of the report, which gave her the top 50 reported ecommerce features and functionalities (see Useful Links, below). The report also included the percentage of merchants who reported specific features as valuable.

For example, 94% of merchants said having a site-based search tool was either "very valuable" or "valuable" for driving performance, Wayt says.

By showing which features other merchants considered valuable, the industry survey data helped the team identify which new features to add, and which existing features needed updating.

Tactic #2. Conduct competitive analysis

Wayt’s team compared the survey of popular ecommerce site features to their own site. They then compared their three biggest competitors’ websites against the list of top 50 features.

This competitive analysis helped the team uncover:

- Opportunities

The team identified ways to "one-up" competitors by finding features that one or more competitor lacked, and which other merchants reported as valuable.

- Needed improvements

They looked for features considered "valuable" that their own website lacked, but which competitors were using. These were areas where they needed to improve.

Tactic #3. Organize the data

Wayt created a spreadsheet to organize the information her team gathered from the report, their website and their competitors’ websites (see creative sample below).

The spreadsheet clearly listed:
o 50 features
o Percentage of merchants who considered the features "valuable"
o Features on the team’s website
o Features each of their three competitors’ websites
o Features deemed "opportunities"

Organizing the data in this way created a powerful document that instantly communicated which features the team wanted to add to the site, and why they wanted to add them. This type of report is beneficial for convincing management to support your efforts, and for explaining a project to the rest of your team.

Tactic #4. Gather internal data

PhotoWorks had a wealth of valuable site information collected during the years prior to the acquisition. Wayt’s team studied those site metrics to identify areas for improvement:

- Pages with high abandonment rates

Pages that have problems will likely have a high abandonment rates. This metric often singles out pages that frustrate visitors and drive them away.

Looking at the data, Wayt’s team realized that a page where visitors uploaded photos -- a key step in the sales process -- was driving many people away. This identified it as candidate for an overhaul.

Note: Not all abandon-heavy pages need redesigns

Some pages will always have higher abandonment rates compared to your site’s average. For example, a page requesting credit card information will likely have a higher abandonment rate for reasons completely unrelated to design.

- Other site data

By studying site data, such as conversions and clicks, the team identified other areas to update, including:
o Shopping cart
o Navigation
o Product browsing

Tactic #5. Conduct usability and eye-tracking tests

Once the team knew which features to add to their site, and which to update, they had to make sure those features would be easier for visitors to use.

American Greetings had a dedicated usability team which they were able to tap for this effort. The usability team helped:
o Define the site’s look and feel
o Outline key site processes
o Validate changes through user testing

"We’re very lucky to have that group," says Wayt.

The team also ran eye-tracking tests to determine which pages were helping visitors focus on the correct elements, and whether some page elements distracted visitors from achieving their goals.

Before you change your site, usability and eye-tracking tests will help reveal pages that cause visitors problems. Once you’re making changes to your site, continuing these tests will help ensure you’re improving the visitors’ experience.

Useful links related to this article

Creative Sample from American Greetings’ site redesign research

Internal Search Data Inspires Store Page Redesigns: 4 Steps to Boost Revenues 50%
The e-tailing group: Supplied best practices report

American Greetings Interactive


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