Everybody’s a Web Critic

Orlando, FL–A few tweaks to a Website can go a long way toward boosting sales, online consultants at the Annual Catalog Conference’s Website Critiques agreed. Monday afternoon’s critique sessions could be harsh, but the reviewers tried to keep the marketers’ goals in sight.

Marysville, KS-based farm-animal and pet supplies cataloger Valley Vet Supply, which went online in 2000, offers its full range of product on its site but wonders if it offers too many pathways to find these items, said Internet coordinator Lisa Schotte. “My bosses aren’t sure if we’re doing the right thing with our home page,” she explained. The page allows users to find products through three categories labeled after the three catalogs the company mails—Equine, Pet, and Farm & Ranch, in addition to a fourth “Health” category that does not relate to a print piece.

Critiquer Jennifer Wells, senior marketing manager, deployment, for Cincinnati-based online consultancy DMinSite, applauded the way the company offers users multiple ways of finding product and, in fact, thought it should open up even more avenues to product. Wells said that Valley Vet could create a navigation bar on the left side of the page that would list all the product categories and subcategories available to shoppers. Currently the site offers only a left-side after a customer has begun a drill-down, clicking on a specific product category.

Also, Wells said, the site’s search box, featured as a small graphic on the upper left side of the page, should be made more prominent. The company might, for instance, enlarge it and place it in the upper right corner instead. Making the search box easy to find, said Wells, is essential given that users who come to the site and care enough to do a search are “two to four times more likely to buy” than those who do not bother searching.

Because search plays such a key role in making sales, Wells also recommended that the company offer advanced search capability right from the home page. “Put that on the home page if you have enough product depth,” she advised. In addition to advanced search, customers should also be able to purchase product right off the home page, said Wells, who suggested that the company feature at least nine items on the home page in a grid format.

Seattle-based retailer Brooks Sports, which in the next few weeks will transform its nontransactional Website into a fully functioning e-commerce site, has some work to do before the site will be truly user-friendly, said critiquer Mike Krypel, senior analyst for New York-based online consultancy Creative Good. “It’s not clear to me that you sell running shoes,” Krypel told multimedia designer Shawn Herron. When a user opens the home page he is first shown a visual of runners in a marathon, which then phases into an image of one runner handing another runner a paper cup with water splashing out of it. Krypel advised Herron not to be afraid to state plainly on the home page what the ompany’s niche is.

Product pages need copy that is more concise, Krypel continued. The kinds of activities each shoe is geared for should be succinctly explained. The “shoe adviser,” a feature on the site that asks users questions and then finds the right Brooks shoe for them, seems so complex, that Krypel said he wondered whether even an avid runner could figure out how to answer.

Port Huron, MI-based needlework and crafts cataloger/retailer Mary Maxim realizes that when visitors come to its site they already know what they want to purchase. The strategy now is creating a site that will encourage them to buy more, said vice president of merchandising and marketing Brian Harris. Creative Good’s Andy Feldman said that such well-directed shoppers rarely make use of a home page. “They either go to search or to use the left-hand navigation bar,” he said. With that in mind, he advised the company to move the left navigation column to the middle of the home page, breaking it up into shorter columns with product category headings.

Text on the site could be made more user-friendly with the aid of bulleted points rather than blocks of product description, said Feldman. “Users don’t read,” he noted. “They’re just scanning for a link that’s going to get them closer to their goal.”

Cosponsored by MULTICHANNEL MERCHANT (formerly CATALOG AGE) magazine and the Direct Marketing Association, the Annual Catalog Conference runs through May 25.

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