By  on May 16, 2007

Online shopping conversion rates rose a whopping 50 percent, and even doubled in some categories, after beallsflorida.com added zoom capability.

Beall's Inc., the $1.2 billion parent of Beall's Department Stores, Beall's and Burke's outlet stores, launched zoom four months ago so Web shoppers could examine fine details of product fabrics and design, said Gwen Bennett, vice president of advertising and e-commerce at the privately held Bradenton, Fla., retailer.

Overall conversion rates — the percentage of site hits that result in sales — now range from 3 to 4.1 percent, according to Bennett. That's up considerably from the 1.5 to 2.7 percent conversion rates the site was seeing before adding zoom.

Lauren Freedman, president of Chicago-based The E-tailing Group Inc., called the improvement "significant" and not typical of what most other companies are experiencing today. "Right now, conversion rates are not increasing that significantly because it is harder to do. It's kind of like same-store sales results," Freedman said, noting there are numerous factors influencing conversion.

Next up at beallsflorida.com: Two more "rich media" features will go live soon, giving shoppers yet more control of the online experience, Bennett said. "Dynamic image sizing helps customers see the details of the product better…and the multiple color views helps customers appreciate the difference of how a product looks in different colors. That's probably the number-one request regarding our images — [shoppers] want to see what it would look like," Bennett said.

Another recent Web site enhancement is a feature called Swimfinder that helps shoppers mix and match sizes on two-piece swimsuits; for example, a size 10 bottom with a size 8 top. "Swim business is up, but our overall business is up, too," Bennett said.

Rich media are advanced imaging technologies that simulate online what a shopper might encounter in a store. The tactile experience cannot be replicated fully in the digital world, but allowing shoppers to view an item from multiple angles and to dynamically change an item's color on the fly helps close the gap between the online and off-line shopping experience.

Bennett said those rich media features, like zoom, will be supported by technology from Novato, Calif.-based Scene7.Rich media may not be cutting-edge technology but retailers are recognizing shoppers come to expect it. Many department and specialty stores added zoom last year, and in a shop.org commissioned study by Forrester Research Inc. released this week, Forrester cited better imaging as a key reason for the growth of apparel sales online. Some 85 percent of retailers see rich media as effective at enhancing the customer experience, according to The E-tailing Group's 6th Annual Merchant Survey conducted this year; 65 percent of senior e-commerce executives view rich media as effective at boosting conversion rates; 47 percent say it can help increase average order size, and 38 percent call it effective at reducing product returns.

"There's been a lot of [activity] with all this rich media," Freedman added. "It gives the customer the confidence to make the purchase."

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