CHICAGO — Spiegel.com’s sales rose 26 percent after a Web site overhaul that simplified navigation and gave shoppers more ways to search deeper into merchandise offerings.

Many of the changes were prompted by analytical software that examined shopper behavior to identify online roadblocks. Now Spiegel Brands’ other Web site, Newport News, is in the throes of a makeover.

Tony Chivari, senior vice president of marketing and e-commerce at New York-based Spiegel Brands, said the Newport News site redesign is set to launch Nov. 1, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season. He outlined offenses the old Spiegel site unwittingly committed and the corrective steps taken to increase sales and conversion rates, reduce shopping cart abandonment and streamline the checkout process.

After the October 2005 site relaunch of Spiegel.com, fourth-quarter sales jumped 26 percent compared with the previous year, Chivari said. Sales in 2006 are tracking at 21 percent ahead of last year. The value of online orders rose 13 percent on average following the redesign, he added.

Before making any changes to Spiegel.com, the company examined how shoppers navigated the old site, where they got hung up and how poor design will hurt sales and the online experience. Using analytical software from Coremetrics of San Mateo, Calif., to quantify the failings, Spiegel learned that “the truth hurts sometimes,” Chivari said during his talk at the Internet Retailer conference in Chicago last month.

For example, the Web site analysis revealed that first-time visitors had “very low” conversion rates and that they seldom clicked through to the “idea resource,” a content-rich section offering shopping tips and advice. Shoppers who clicked through to the idea resource page had 30 percent higher conversion rates than those who didn’t, Chivari said. “The problem was, very few people clicked here,” he said.

Repeat visitors had better conversion rates, but they did not stay long. “She was not engaged,” Chivari said.

A cluttered home page, product categories that were too broadly defined and multiple links that took the shopper to the same place were other trouble spots identified in the analysis.

Spiegel then embarked on a redesign with Fry Inc., a Web site development company based in Ann Arbor, Mich. Fry, which hosts the site, worked with Spiegel Brands’ advertising and Internet departments to develop the creative components.

This story first appeared in the July 12, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Among the enhancements are a lighter-color background that makes graphics pop, the ability to purchase a complete outfit with a single click and more versatile search so that shoppers can navigate however they like — by collection, by product/category or by item numbers that correspond to its catalogue. Product information and content are more tightly integrated through new features such as a Stylist Advice section, where stylist Wayne Scot Lukas shows how to achieve different looks with key wardrobe pieces.

As a result, shopper-to-buyer conversion rates rose 59 percent among first-time visitors and 43 percent among repeat shoppers, Chivari said. He did not disclose conversion rates. The number of home page exits decreased 19 percent, and the number of page views per session increased 14 percent. The number of items added to a cart increased 45 percent, on average, and that improved the average order value by 13 percent, he added.

Through clickstream analysis, which examines how shoppers move through a site, Spiegel learned that cart abandonment often occurred after a shopper left the checkout page to review shipping and security policies — never to return to complete the purchase. The redesign added quick links to that information right from the checkout page. The checkout process, which had required four clicks to complete, was streamlined to two clicks, and shopping cart abandonment rates fell by 20 percent.

“This is the ‘do-or-die’ moment: Are they going to finish the process?” Chivari said. “Keep [checkout] simple. This is not the place to make things interesting or innovative.”

Spiegel also revamped the clearance section with enhanced search, with the result that shopper exits decreased 15 percent. Sessions per visitor increased 7 percent, and the time shoppers spent there rose 17 percent.

Chivari said the company is looking for ways to personalize the shopping experience on Spiegel.com, but he did not provide details. “There are a variety of ways this could be executed, and we are still in the process of determining the best strategy,” he said.

Both the Spiegel and Newport News brands were acquired in 2004 by Golden Gate Capital, a San Francisco-based private equity investment firm. In March, Golden Gate bought Norm Thompson Outfitters, a Portland, Ore., online and Internet retailer, and the company is currently looking to add more brands to its portfolio.

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