A Chat with King Arthur Flour’s E-commerce Queen

King Arthur Flour may be a 200-plus-year-old catalog merchant, but it’s embracing e-commerce with gusto. The baking tools merchant about 18 months ago brought in Web veteran Halley Silver to revamp and reposition King Arthur Flour for the online world. I-merchant’s Tim Parry caught up with Silver, who was recently promoted to director of e-commerce, to talk about the overhaul.

Though you haven’t been on board at King Arthur Flour for long, your impact on e-commerce is evident. Was it difficult to get an old-school cataloger on board with new media?

Not at all. Everyone at King Arthur had been ready and waiting to do more online, but simply did not have the team in place and in-house expertise to move things forward. I came on board and hit the ground running, and we quickly started to make progress. There is an amazing willingness to try things out here—something for which I’m personally very thankful.

What did you feel was the most important fix for King Arthur Flour’s Website, and how soon were you able to get that done?

On my first day, I was tasked with implementing redesigns of our home page and commerce site landing pages. While improvements to these pages were sorely needed, with no decent analytics in place, we were working blind. So along with that, I snuck in Google Analytics tagging. Simply being able to measure and report online activity changed the way we viewed our online efforts.

From there, we were able to quickly discern that the recipes section of our site was the first place to focus our efforts. We spent the first half of 2008 working on recipes, making incremental changes site-wide along the way, and by July found that we had rebuilt pretty much the entire site.

Speaking of Google Analytics, when you check your out, what’s the first statistic you look for? And are you obsessed with Web analytics?

Well, I’m not as obsessed as I used to be, but I think I do check on at least one statistic daily. I can’t say that I look at any one single thing first—often I’m looking for one particular piece of information, such as the impact of an e-mail campaign or blog post, and then periodically I check on general trends in traffic, visitors, and goal conversions. I usually find myself getting sidetracked from my original research, but always end up finding something new and interesting.

What percentage of Kingarthurflour.com was e-commerce vs. educational and entertainment, and do you feel the site reflects that today?

In terms of pages on our site, it was and still is split about 40% e-commerce to 60% educational and entertainment. In terms of traffic, it’s the opposite—60% e-commerce to 40% educational. That has not shifted significantly in the past year.

As a company, education is one of our core values: We strive to serve, educate, and inspire those in the world around us.” This directly translates to our efforts online—the Web team places as much, if not more, focus on baking education and inspiration as we do on e-commerce.

In the end, this has proven to bring great results, and the educational sections—most notably the blog—are what bring in new visitors and create “buzz.” The tricky part is trying to seamlessly integrate the e-commerce and educational pieces so that they are not two distinct sites.

The Website now certainly looks nicer and runs smoother than it did in 2007. But what kind of a return on investment did it bring King Arthur Flour—how is success measured?

It can be measured in dollars and cents, page views and visitors, e-mail list growth, catalog requests, blog comments, product and recipe reviews, media mentions…we look at all of these things, and thankfully, the numbers are growing across the board.

We’ve heard a few experts and analysts over the past few years say that the home page is no longer the most important page. Is that the case with King Arthur Flour’s site?

For us, the home page is definitely very important. It still is by far our top landing page, and we have just a few seconds to tell our visitors what we’re about, and how much we have to offer online.

This is no easy task. Not only do we produce and sell some of the world’s finest flours, but we also offer a complete commerce site with over 1,000 specialty baking tools and ingredients, thousands of recipes that have been created and tested by our professional bakers, free live-chat baking advice through our Baker’s Hotline, an overwhelmingly active blog, numerous educational programs – the list goes on.

How do we get that message across in just a few seconds, and still keep a clear, elegant, mouth-watering page that inspires visitors to explore all that we have to offer? We’ve probably launched at least a dozen different home page designs in the past year, and I think we’re at a good place now. And, back to analytics, our bounce rate backs that up.

In redesigning and repurposing the King Arthur Flour Website, what is the most important lesson you learned, and what advice would you give a fellow old-school cataloger who may want to do a site overhaul?

Don’t attempt to do a complete overhaul. Tackle one small piece at a time, and keep it going as a work in progress. A year ago, every single page on our site needed to be recoded and polished, and it was overwhelming. But we broke this down into small manageable pieces, starting with the recipes section. Currently, we’re working on search-engine friendly URLs. A few weeks ago, page titles. A few weeks before that, updated photography. Keep focused on the basics, and don’t get sidetracked by trying to have all the “bells and whistles.”

And last, be sure to measure each change. If the results are unexpected, never be afraid to change course.

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