The Internet Retailer Web Design 2010 conference confirmed one of my long-held assumptions about the online retail industry: most ecommerce sites underutilize their metrics.
This is actually an understatement. Most companies, particularly small businesses with less than $10 million in revenue, barely use metrics at all. And they’re missing out on huge business opportunities as a result.
By metrics, I refer to the page-level data about user behavior that can identify problems and unseen possibilities to improve an ecommerce (or any) website. This isn’t about sku-level data and revenue per order; on a base level, every seller knows how much he’s selling. This is about knowing how and why those items sell, and how a website is affecting performance.
Time after time at IRWD I asked a retailer about site performance, and each time I got blank stares or embarrassed grins. “We actually don’t have any analytics installed,” some people told me. Many others routinely gave a variation on, “Yeah, we have to take a look at it.” Of all the people I met, I only spoke with one business that was able to recite to me some of its important data points and the efforts being made to improve on them.
Data comprehension may be the single biggest factor in getting incremental growth out of a site. By looking at analytics, a retailer can know what pages are underperforming, where fallout occurs, and how processes and displays can be improved. Simple, free or inexpensive tools can report everything from visits before purchase to the location and timing of mouse clicks, all of which are part of the smart retailer’s arsenal.
But instead of building on these smarts, I got interactions like these:
“Hi, David, I was wondering if you could look at my website. I have two sites selling similar merchandise, and this one has only a third of the sales of the other one. This is the redesign I’m working on for the worse site. Do you think it will help?”
“Well, to start, have you looked at your analytics?”
“No, we have a Google account, but I just know that this site isn’t performing.”
“You have a site that’s up and running and doing well. If you crack open your Google Analytics you can compare the data side by side and see where the lesser site is underperforming. That way you’ll know what to attack. You’re actually in a great position to fix it if you do that.”
“But do you think this new layout is going to help?”
I don’t know if that redesign will work, but I do know that the owner of the site is ignoring his own benchmarks. If he looked, he’d be a lot closer to the answer.
Why dive into a redesign without identifying targets for improvement? “Fix my conversion” is not a useful goal. “Make changes to the product page, which has a high fallout rate, to improve adds to cart while encouraging further exploration” is an actionable one. That actionable goal can be identified quickly and easily, but so few businesses are doing it.
Many, many questions raised at IRWD can be answered in-house with a thorough study of site analytics. Companies that ignore it are almost literally leaving money on the table.