Returns Drop After L.L. Bean Revamps Site

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L.L. Bean Inc. claims that returns have decreased 4 percent since it relaunched Oct. 22 to make the shopping process more intuitive.

While the company would not disclose numbers, it reports that traffic is up 49 percent since L.L. Bean's most ambitious online makeover. Of course, the arrival of holiday catalogs and buildup in gift shopping brought much of the increase.

"Overall, the changes that we made to our navigation were to reduce the number of clicks that somebody needed to go through to get information," said Pat Murtagh, manager of site planning and development at L.L. Bean, Freeport, ME.

More than 13,000 Web pages were sifted through to reconfigure site architecture and content in time for the holiday season. Changes were designed for the busy shopper and based on consumer feedback.

Chief among the tweaks was the addition of a drop-down menu. Regardless of the page browsed, four horizontal bars are ubiquitous: Shop, Explore the Outdoors, Customer Service and My Account. The drop-down menu is designed to eliminate two clicks for shoppers in search of products.

"Given our customer feedback, we changed our nomenclature -- the titles in the navigation structure -- so that people would find exactly what they were expecting," Murtagh said.

Another change is the integration between the quick shop and search fields. Consumers can enter the item number or keyword in a single box.

"We combined the two of those because we literally watched customers using our search engine as a quick shop field," Murtagh said.

Similarly, the retailer consolidated its shopping guide on the department-level page. Earlier, the guides -- containing activity-related content and videos -- were scattered all over the site.

To make ordering technical products easier, a new comparison chart was introduced. This is being tested with the outerwear and outdoor categories. Consumers can quickly compare products by checking the boxes. Clicking on a choice yields product features and pricing details.

Speedy decision-making underpins the thinking behind the comparison chart. Consumers click on a product image, read the description and then enter contact and billing details for purchase, making it one of the few sites where consumers can order directly from a chart.

"Again, we said, 'How do we get information quickly and upfront for consumers in their purchasing consideration so they can make decisions whether they can purchase or not?'" Murtagh said.

Launched in 1995, started taking orders online the next year. It now offers the entire assortment sold by the 89-year-old retailer of outdoor gear and apparel.

Though catalog brands like L.L. Bean and Lands' End are household names, they still face issues related to remote purchases. Returns remain a major challenge. And notwithstanding technology like online sizing tools, apparel buying remains largely a tactile experience for consumers.

Not that is unaware of this.

"On our product pages we have introduced a link which you click on to enlarge to make it full-screen," Murtagh said. "The other thing we put on our product pages is the ability to click on a color and the product presented in that color."

Still, daunted by the challenges, and Kmart Corp.'s have stopped selling apparel in their online stores.

Making the online shopping experience as close to offline is paramount. Even before returns are an issue, conversion rates -- the percentage of online browsers who turn into buyers -- matter most.

On that front, is among top achievers. According to comScore Networks, the site boasted a conversion rate of 10.1 percent. was at 9 percent, with almost neck-and-neck at 8.9 percent. was close behind at 8.2 percent.

Retailers in the 5 percent to 7 percent range included,,, and had a 3.2 percent rate.

Internet-only retailers and had rates of 2.7 percent and 0.7 percent, respectively.

"We've tried to simplify the shopping process -- the whole consideration phase, purchasing phase," Murtagh said. "We have one of the lowest abandonment rates in the industry -- it's about half of the industry standard -- and I think what we've done speaks to further decreasing that abandonment rate."

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