Computers and artificial intelligence have come along at an exponential rate over the past few decades, from being regarded as oversized adding machines to the point where they have played integral roles in some legitimately creative endeavours.
“When I say the website should be the hub of the brand, I get some funny looks from people, but even if you have a bricks-and-mortar store, visuals online can still affect sales,” Sur La Table’s senior vice-president of digital, Kevin Ertell, said.
Speaking at the Online Retailers Conference 2016 in Sydney, Ertell argued retailers need to build an engaging, visually-driven website to help influence customers and strengthen a community around your brand.
“We need to recognise our website is our only true vehicle for bringing in global brand members,” he said. “If you look at Sur La Table, we had visitors from over 230 different countries come to our site in the past year. So we really need to think about the impact of our site and web presence on the brand."
1. Don’t just look at your site as a sales vehicle
At Sur La Table, Ertell said customer studies found people were visiting the site to do research on a product prior to making a purchase, which showed the site was not actually primarily a cash register.
“This means we shouldn’t just think about our site as a sales vehicle,” he explained. “That old way of thinking can narrow our potential and all we can do with the site. So that’s why you need to see your site as a hub for your brand.”
In fact, your site is wider a hub consisting of a marketing platform, a merchandising vehicle and customer research tool, Ertell said.
2. A key marketing platform
Retailers also need to think about the traffic coming to the site and how to maximise, target and optimise that, while conveying the brand message in the most effective and powerful way.
“We have a lot of new visitors, and the first place they come to check the brand is the site,” Ertell said. “So we need to ensure that is a premium experience for those people. First impressions are everything, and people make immediate decisions when they land on your site.”
3. Make your site visually exciting
When Ertell first came to Sur La table, the website featured a lot of written content and data. So he and his team spent a lot of time and effort rebuilding a new, more modern version that emphasised imagery and visual over words.
“It was just a hotchpotch of text and imagery,” he said. “It looked old, it didn’t look professional or very solid.
“Now we have a much better impact for our brand, and how we want our brand to be interpreted by people."
4. Improve user experience
One of the key improvements Ertell was involved with in the Sur La Table’s site improvement was its navigation capacity and user experience.
“We even used old jargon like ‘electrics’, that no real customer calls appliances,” he added. “That’s an industry term.”
To remedy the issue, Ertelle’s team asked a select customer base how they would categorise particular products.
“We really wanted to know how they were experiencing our brand and our site,” he said. “And as a result, we came out with a much cleaner navigation – and we now focus on what people do, like cooking, cleaning and dining, as opposed to the actual product types. So by using the same terms customers use, it helps represent our brand better.”
5. Test and learn
Ertell said it’s critical to ensure you don’t become complacent with your site, but continue to test, learn and evolve.
“We have 220 tests currently running at one time,” he said. “And we’re always trying different things to see what we can learn.”