Too far gone to spring clean? It might be time for an extreme makeover


What if every time you visited your favorite store, everything looked exactly the same? Or it was so crammed with stuff you could barely move down the aisles? Would you keep going back?

Probably not. So why is this problem so common with eCommerce websites?

Instead of staying lean, they grow larger and larger . . . and things get ugly. The sites end up with dozens or even hundreds of bloated pages with no eyepath; they get overrun by ever-smaller fonts, graphics, ads, and photos; obsolete information and broken links sprout like weeds.

A friend of mine works in a brick-and-mortar store where the owner believes that if you can’t turn around without knocking something over, people will think he’s going out of business. “The shop looks empty,” he says when my friend tries to change things up, knock off the dust, and discount stuff that hasn’t sold in years.

The reality is that even the conservative display changes and occasional culls my friend gets away with allow customers to “discover” products that have been there awhile. “The store looks great,” they often say. “Did you get some new things?”

On the other end of the design spectrum are my friends Brad, Lew, and Gregory, who own a contemporary home furnishings store in Phoenix. They believe in frequent, major revamps, mashing older and newer things together in dramatic ways that keep their regular customers guessing (and excited).

For most retail websites, the sweet spot falls somewhere in between. And they have an advantage over brick-and-mortars, because eCommerce sites can test a radical redesign idea and see what happens before rolling it out. Multivariable testing gives online businesses the opportunity for “breakthrough thinking” and much higher conversion rates if executed properly.

As our research brief on the subject says:

“When you can test only one change at a time, you are under pressure to think of a ‘good’ change . . . something you think has a high likelihood of delivering improved results. This can lead to cautious thinking. However, with multivariable testing you can test as many changes as you like. This takes the pressure off and gives you enormous creative latitude, opening the door to breakthrough ideas you might otherwise never have tested.”

The caveat is whether a site will get enough traffic in the time allotted for a test. That determines whether the tested changes are statistically valid and significant. In other words, if showing your redesign to only 10% of your traffic means it will take years to get to 95% confidence in your findings, you might want to up the ante.

So go on, move some things around. Try a whole new approach. The payoff could be huge.

And if you’re looking for ideas to test, come to our 5/7 Web Clinic on optimizing eCommerce websites.

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