Most experts advise web marketers to do a fairly complete overhaul of their site designs once every two or three years. Some say that you should redesign every single year, in order to stay ahead or at least level with the competition.
Improving site technology is also integral to growth. With that in mind, retail and wholesale players have recently been adding online video, shopping personalization and other features to enhance the user's experience. And still, some industry observers believe that quarterly or biannual tweaks are all that is needed, as long as the site is working effectively. They warn ecommerce directors not to get too carried away.
"I think that it all depends on the type of business you are running," said Morris Matloubian, controller of Four Seasons Wholesale in City of Industry, CA. "We recently found a happy medium, I believe, in our redesign. The look and feel is cleaner and makes the site easier to navigate. Additionally, we have put in an enterprise level platform. It is going to make our service even better. As time goes by, it is going to transform our customers' capabilities."
Indeed, upgrading technology can help a site's overall performance by leaps and bounds. Because of the new enterprise platform, Matloubian has implemented an upsell feature that will offer wholesale customers smart add on items, such as accessories, that their store patrons likely need. For instance, if customers purchase shampoo products, they are offered conditioners, gels, hair spray or other haircare and beauty products. In addition, the product info has increased and the image sizes have been doubled.
"We have made it easier for our customers to find the items for which they are searching," Matloubian explained. "All we are trying to do is help them any way we can in terms of getting the product they need for their stores."
Buyers at www.4sgm.com can also now check their accounts 24/7 to see if their orders have shipped, and to review prior purchases from the last week, month or year. They can create Wish Lists, to remind them of the items they will need to pick up for their stores at a later date. "It is much more customized for the user experience," said Matloubian, whose company offers around 6,000 units of dollar store items and general merchandise. "We keep making the site increasingly personalized because that is the trend that you see on the Internet."
Meanwhile, Four Seasons Wholesale's website includes a section that takes the viewer on a tour of its southern California facility. Matloubian also put in a Flyer Of The Month program on the homepage. Users can download a PDF document of special offers and then print it out to use over the phone with a sales rep. However, due to another website upgrade, Matloubian hopes to hear fewer phones ringing and more customers zipping through the virtual queue.
"Perhaps most importantly, our customers can now complete their purchases online," he explained. "In the past, they had to call in the order or fax it in. This is going to smooth the flow of our operations."
Sun Fashion Shines
Most firms adopt new web technologies either at the pace in which they can afford them or at the rate in which they need to keep up with the competition. And then there are the few select firms that simply come flying out of the Internet gate because of the way in which they established themselves offline.
One of those companies is Sun Fashion Designs, which has wholesaled stellar and affordable jewelry products in Prescott, AZ, for more than 30 years. And while the firm has been online for only two years, its website already employs personalization and other customer friendly features.
"I insisted that the website had a personal catalog," said Gloria Witek, president of Sun Fashion Designs. "People can record in their personal catalog the items that they order (which makes reordering easier) as well as the items that they want to consider. It has been a fabulous feature. When we went into this, we really wanted a website that had an ease of use. Customer feedback tells us that we are succeeding."
Witek also put in a program that places items into the personal catalog according to a set of rules set by her merchandising team. This feature is similar to a normal upsell or cross-sell feature. But the Sun Fashion Designs system makes recommendations within the personal catalog and stores them in the account for future shopping.
"The great thing is that the system has been affordable," Witek explained. "I know websites for some recent ecommerce adaptors have not necessarily paid for themselves. But our website is already doing that. There is a way to launch a site and get the return on investment you want and need. In fact, we would listen to offers from people who wanted to copy our website."
Customers at www.sunfashiondesigns.com can also use their personal catalog to quickly reorder by searching for product numbers. For instance, customers that submit #14024 will see a 14-carat gold Italian curb necklace starting at $11.60. Additionally, the site has algorithms set to catch common shopping errors.
"If you add something twice to the personal catalog by mistake, the system will tell you that the item is already in there," Witek said. "Of course, this makes sense for wholesale customers because they never want to overstock inventory. It also makes things easier for us with customer service and returns. In the end, no one wants honest mistakes to make it through the system."
Dollardays.com Leads The Pack
While Witek has been showing her quick grasp of ecommerce, others in the wholesale community have been making a name for themselves for years. Take Marc Joseph, president of Dollar Days and author of the leading mom and pops' how-to guide for entrepreneurs, "The Secrets of Retailing: How to Beat Wal-Mart." Simply put, he has his general merchandise wholesale firm on the cusp of the web industry.
Joseph has recently led his team through a bevy of redesign projects. But because online video is currently the buzz topic of ecommerce, perhaps the fact that he added that particular feature 13 months ago is most noteworthy.
His Scottsdale, AZ, company has been posting behind the scenes videoed looks at the firm. And by clicking the homepage ad for, "The Secrets of Retailing," the viewer can watch 15 minutes of video that includes Joseph giving a presentation on his book tour, and speaking on several TV news programs. There is also a link to a news report about the Animal Welfare League, which Dollars Days sponsors.
"The thing about an Internet business is that you do not know who is on the other side of that screen," Joseph said. "What we have found is that with the use of video on our site, it makes our business more personable. We are a real company this way. We truly are like the neighbor next door. We just happen to do business on the Internet."
Also added to www.dollardays.com was an enhanced onsite search tool, which was made by emarketing provider, Endeca Technologies of Cambridge, MA. The system recognizes and corrects misspelled queries, as well as pulls up more relevant results. "The Endeca system has made our site even friendlier," Joseph said. "The feedback we have gotten from our customer base has been extremely positive about ease of use."
But Joseph was not done yet. The next thing he did was put himself in the retailer's shoes when using the site, and he quickly realized that the search engine needed to be set up to mine categories separately. He said that he came to see the online experience as having more similarities with brick and mortar than he had previously realized.
"We designed our site as if it was a chain store; because, the way retailers shop is not that much different than the way consumers shop," he said. "If you are in a store's apparel department, you do not want to see automotive stuff. The experience on the Internet should not be any different."
Kole Imports Gets Flashy
As Joseph at Dollar Days greatly demonstrated, the task of improving a website is unending. In short, there are always new technologies and methods coming into the marketplace that can be applied to what a company needs to accomplish.
As another fine example, Brian Winkelman, web manager at Kole Imports, decided about 15 months ago that he wanted to make his firm's ecommerce site more contemporary. So he did a complete redesign with a focus on navigability. But most interestingly, he implemented Adobe Flash technology on the www.koleimports.com homepage, in order to run video ads that highlight their latest product specials.
"Because most people have moved off of dialup and onto high speed, we were able to put in Flash," said Winkelman, from company headquarters in Carson, CA. "We also added more categories to the homepage and larger thumbnails for product images. Now, the customers can spot what they are looking for right away. In the end, the idea of the homepage is to get people shopping as soon as possible. We are here to sell product, so we do not want to slow our web customers down."
Companies included in this story:
Four Seasons Wholesale
3777 Workman Mill Rd.
City of Industry, CA 90601
Sun Fashion Designs, Inc.
3220 Tower Road
Prescott, AZ 86305
Dollar Days International, LLC
7575 E Redfield Rd. Suite 129
Scottsdale, AZ 85260
4600 S. Main Street
Carson, CA 90745
Endeca Technologies, Inc.
101 Main Street
Cambridge, MA 02142
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