By  on January 21, 2009

A good online retailer is always freshening up its look. To that end, Saks Fifth Avenue completed a redesign just before Christmas.

Perhaps the biggest change is the introduction of a site for Canada. Previously, Saks took orders over the phone and then would call back the customer to tell her the order total. Now Canadian customers see prices in Canadian dollars, with the appropriate taxes and tariffs included.

That alone has boosted sales significantly, said president of Saks Direct Denise Incandela. “Canadian sales are up something like 300 or 400 percent,” she said.

The retailer plans to develop versions of its site for Europe and Asia, though it has not set any dates for the rollout, she said.

Another big change is the ability to see alternate looks without having to click through to the product detail page. When the shopper rolls her cursor over some items, the front view gives way to a back view.

Photos are bigger, and a shopper can view as many as 80 looks on a page. Previously the site could show only 15.

Each product detail page now has at least three views, including insides of handbags. Handbag detail pages also show each bag on a silhouette of a model, so shoppers know how big it is.

Shoppers can navigate the site by viewing total looks or specific items of apparel such as pants or tops.

In October, the retailer started offering monogramming on more than 100 items, including Longchamp bags.

It is too early to tell the effect of visual changes in product views, said Incandela.

The redesign has been in the works for about a year. Saks uses Blue Martini software, but many of its innovations are proprietary ones the retailer developed itself. Some of the changes came from customer requests, who said they wanted more product information.

“It’s always about improving your visibility with the hope you will increase conversion,” Incandela said.

Saks does not break out e-commerce results. However, said Incandela, “direct is performing better than full line, and always has, because we’re still relatively immature and have a lot of organic growth. That relationship hasn’t changed.” Unique visitors decreased but conversion increased in 2008 versus 2007, she said. “It’s almost like the shoppers stayed with us and the browsers have moved on.”

Saks has begun to test video in the product detail pages. For example, if a shopper clicks on certain designer looks, such as a white sweater and dark skirt from Marc Jacobs, the model will twirl around. “Our objective is to increase conversion and reduce the return rate” of purchases, she said. The retailer is comparing like items from the same vendor to see if video makes a difference.

Saks plans to continually enhance the site every six months. It remains committed to participating in social media, such as YouTube. The retailer does not yet have plans to move into mobile commerce, she said.

In December, Saks’ comparable-store sales were down 19.8 percent. For the third quarter, the retailer reported sales of $698 million, down from $796 million the year prior. The company last week unveiled a major cost-cutting program, which includes reducing its workforce by 9 percent and scaling back capital


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