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GUEST COMMENT The art of retail website evolution – how to get the balance right

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In a constantly changing world, the established wisdom is that websites should always be evolving. But there is a balance to be struck between staying fresh and confusing customers with ever-changing designs and overhauls.


As all online retailers know, a huge factor in a shop’s success is ensuring that it always looks, feels and works perfectly. Websites have to evolve constantly to keep in line with both the products offered, but also the customer’s expectations in terms of the overall experience.
In considering when to make changes to a website, there are a number of trigger points, which can be divided roughly as follows:


Macro Factors


When the world changes you have to change with it. The biggest macro change-driver in recent years has been mobile-first. As consumers moved, in the main, from desktop to handheld, a major driver in website redesign has been, and remains, ensuring responsiveness and compatibility on all devices. Google and other search engines are another driver. When Google makes changes, websites have to keep up. Similarly, designs have to work as well on Internet Explorer as they do on Chrome or Firefox, so changes to these in the macro environment can be further drivers of change.


Product Changes


An obvious driver of design change is internal product changes – especially new products. Although most retailers change individual products daily or even hourly, the launch of a new product line or hero product can be a driver to website changes at a wider level. If the company has invested a lot in product development, it makes sense to gear website design to maximising sales of the new product while still maintaining sales of existing product ranges. Seasonal changes can also be a driver for many and a chance to renew and refresh.


Analytics


Sales analytics alongside digital analytics are another driver of change. When a certain range is not selling as well as you feel it should be, digital analytics should help you get an idea of why, and empower you to make choices in improving design to bring sales back on course. An overall dip in sales can also be a driver of change. Sometimes it’s good to look, not only to the analytics of your own site but at competitors’ sites too. Is there a reason they may be stealing customers away from you. What changes can you make to bring them back?


Audience Changes


Sometimes, your audience changes on you. Many businesses targeting older generations were resistant to change when mobile first came about. But as that audience has started to catch up and become more tech-savvy, website design has echoed this. Audience engagement is essential to ensuring you move forward together with your core audience.


Achieving Balance


So with so many drivers of change, what’s the best way to keep up-to-date, without getting overwhelmed or moving the goalposts on a carefully nurtured audience?


In the bad old days, a common assumption amongst client companies was that getting something new meant, doing away with the old. When a retailer was looking to update its website, it would put it out to tender. A number of agencies would pitch for the business and the newly chosen one would strip out all the work of the previous agency and replace it, with their new ideas, which would remain in place until the next pitch. And thus the website “overhaul” was born. The result is poor digital performance, simultaneous re-trodden and from-scratch analytics requirements, and potentially confused customers.


Thankfully, overhauling as a best practice solution has been replaced by evolution. If you add commercial competition as a driver of change into the mix of all the factors listed above – with a new agency trying to prove its ideas are better than the previous agency, or those of the client, there’s a danger the actual, necessary drivers of change can be lost.
A better way is to form a long term relationship with your trusted supplier, who will work with you to evolve your website over time. Evolution is preferable to overhaul. Essentially, be a mammal, not a dinosaur.


Small, nimble changes will often go un-noticed – at least consciously – by customers but can have profound benefits. Constantly reviewing performance and making small changes on a continuous basis is a far better solution than sweeping redesigns, which may trip-up, confuse or alienate customers. When it comes to keeping pace with a changing world, evolution is always better than revolution.

 

Author: Rachel Smith, EKM.com

Image credit: Fotolia

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