Monday, November 19, 2007

Online Store Benchmarking

This part of our web metrics program assessed and measured the current state of websites on which our products were sold. This initial assessment would then be compared to the same web- sites in the same measurement methods after improvement recommendations had been implemented.

This methodology uses parts from inspection methodology. Because it uses category experts as reviewers instead of actual customers, it does not measure usability. It does, however, measure how well a website is optimized for category and product profitability. This environmental scan is necessary to set the bar for improvement.

The strategy was to use an objective process to measure each site, provide recommendations and e-planograms to the online merchants based on what we learned, and then re-measure the effectiveness after the recommendations were implemented.

It was important that the results be reproducible, so back up copies of specific key findings were made in case the website changed. It was also critical to have a knowledgeable category expert conduct the evaluation because a nuance to one person could result in missed opportunities that would have gone overlooked. Benchmarking methodologies assess the current state of a website and how well it is optimized for sales.

Internet 2010Objectives

The online store benchmark program had four main objectives:

  • Understand online store design and content in key areas that shape the user experience.
  • Identify gaps and weaknesses in online store deployment and customer expectations.
  • Define problem areas and issues related to performing key navigation and ordering tasks.
  • Make recommendations for improved customer usability and chances for increased sales based on documented findings and conclusions.

The benchmarking must accommodate different types of store designs and configurations, because all online stores are different. The benchmarking must also accommodate the morphing online marketplace and have relevance to the online merchant.


We defined the following strategies to accomplish our objectives:

  • Establish objective evaluation criteria, and rate the store's effectiveness in selling key products.
  • Quantify which important online sales features are present in key focus category areas.
  • Develop search strategy and methodologies based on known customer expectations of the purchasing process.
  • Recommend improvements of the site that will result in increased sales and enhance customer usability.
  • Aggregate results, and relatively rank all stores evaluated.

Track effectiveness of the store over time, and define ROI of this process based on the increased sales or consumer loyalty index ratings.

The benchmarking program was designed as an ongoing, iterative process instead of a one-time program. Because Internet selling was growing at a rapid rate, it was important to monitor this business. Also, online stores carry a broader product mix than traditional channels. The sites reflect changed navigation models and product profitability.

The Benchmarking Process

We developed and used the following process:

  1. Establish search criteria.
  2. Develop a metrics scorecard.
  3. Conduct the evaluation.
  4. Map out purchase process flow issues.
  5. Purchase products.
  6. Total the scores.
  7. Recommend improvements.

Recommendations were supported by annotated screen captures. Recommendations were detailed in an overall recommendations/assessment document that lists good and confusing aspects of navigation by area and category. It also noted best practices that reinforced what appeared to work well within the site.

A meeting was conducted with the online merchant to share key findings and deliver recommendations on online store improvement as it related to category profitability. Store executives, buyers, merchandisers, and members of the IT department attended the meeting, because all have an influence on the online store design.

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