Lillian Vernon Redesign Tailors to User Preferences

James Maguire

Updated · Apr 15, 2005

It’s a challenge that confronts most online merchants sooner or later: the dreaded site redesign.

This massive undertaking is usually put off for as long as possible. But for sites built several years back, it’s often necessary to keep up with today’s more competitive environment.

In the case of Lillian Vernon, the site was successful as it was. The venerable catalog retailer, which sells housewares and seasonal products, derived 38 percent of its hefty revenue stream through its e-commerce operation last year — up from 29 percent a couple of years ago.

However, “there was functionality that we needed that I felt didn’t exist on the current site,” says Peter Shapiro, senior vice president of e-commerce. So in January, Lillian Vernon debuted a redesigned site.

Chief among the site’s goals in the redesign, Shapiro says, is the capability to target customers with offers and promotions based on “a number of criteria,” including prior purchase history and observed browsing behavior.

Customizing on the Fly
“If I know that all you ever buy are kids’ products on my site, I want to make sure that a good portion of what you see are kids’ products,” Shapiro says. The redesigned site customizes its presentation for each repeat customer, using cookie technology along with information fed in from the site’s backend.

In fact, “I can change everything on the home page,” based on prior purchase behavior, he says.

The old site provided only limited tools to test customer response. Shapiro notes that everything about a product’s presentation — the price, the accompanying text — is a variable that affects consumer response. But before the redesign, the site posted an offer and “that would be it,” he says.

Lillian Vernon’s site was redesigned with targetetd customization in mind to drive more sales.

Now, the site can present four different versions of a major promotion, each shown to one quarter of the site’s shoppers. It also has reporting in place to measure click rate and conversion. The day after presenting these four versions, the site “reads results, and takes down the losing three versions,” Shapiro says.

Shortening Checkout
Although Lillian Vernon’s site redesign is “done,” Shapiro’s passion for testing means changes will continue.

One key area: checkout. Every variable is considered: the number of pages, order of pages, the types of question, how and where those questions are asked — even the color of the submit button.

The site has shortened its checkout by shifting the locations of certain questions. “90 to 95 percent of people send it to themselves and select standard shipping, so we’re just going to bring them to the final page, and let them go back and edit if they want to change those things.”

This testing also extends to Lillian Vernon’s e-mail campaign.

“Every e-mail that goes out probably has anywhere from two to eight different versions,” Shapiro says.

Every e-mail variable is tested — continuously. Even when successful parameters are found, testing continues.

“If we have a winner, we’ll roll out with it, but who’s to say we can’t do better than that one?” he says.

Vital Statistics
Name: Lillian Vernon
Founded: 1951
Sales/revenues: 38 percent are from online sales
Content management/storefront system: Frye OCP
Database backend: Frye OCP
Visitor analytics system: FireClick
Affiliate technology provider: LinkShare
Payment solutions provider: Paymentech
Hosting provider: N/A
Number of tech staff: 5 devoted to the site
Number of employees: 16 in the online group
Key strategies: • Targeting customers with offers and promotions.
• Constantly testing promotional tools.
• Shortening the checkout process to save shoppers time.

James Maguire is a contributor to

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