Bombay Redesign Aims to Match Consumer Lifestyles

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The Bombay Company Inc. emphasizes emotion over transaction in its new marketing and merchandising.

"Why should we make customers fit into our lifestyle? Why don't we fit with theirs?" said Matt Corey, vice president of Internet operations at Bombay.

That is the new philosophy guiding the Fort Worth, TX, home furnishings retailer in its stores, catalog and Web site at Bombay in September broke a branding campaign that stressed its new positioning across channels and media. The changes were most stark on the site.

For instance, the product-against-wall shots are largely gone, replaced by an emphasis on the product in a milieu reflective of the customer's lifestyle. The dark wood chair goes with a rug, painting on wall and table with appropriate lamp.

The new look-and-feel extends to granularity. The retailer is using larger images to show the actual grain of the wood.

Even the browsing structure has changed. Previously, the left side of the page was devoted to marketing-related tabs: catalog requests, e-mail signup and search. Now, the top and left-hand navigation offers the options of browsing categories like furniture, accessories, lighting, wall decor and bedding.

That new structure produced a 70 percent lift in online sales in the first week of the site's relaunch Nov. 9. Such increased traffic and buying activity show that paying attention to user experience matters.

"The challenge is better communication with the customers -- being less transactional and more emotional," Corey said. "People want ideas. They don't want to see a ton of products against a blank wall. They want to see it in a lifestyle setting."

According to Usability Sciences Corp., a correlation exists between individual visit success and the visitor's likelihood to return.

"If the user experience results in a successful visit, the visitors report a 75 percent likelihood to return and 10 percent not," said Jeff Schueler, president of Usability Sciences, Irving, TX. "Conversely, if the user experience is a failure, the visitors are 38 percent likely to return to the site and 40 percent unlikely.

"For e-commerce sites like Bombay, the difference is even more startling," he said. "Eighty-five percent of successful visitors will return. Only 42 percent of unsuccessful visitors feel the same way."

Usability Sciences' WebIQ product collects and analyzes voluntary information from actual site visitors. This offers a snapshot of site performance, with recommendations for improvement. Clients include Dell Inc., Kohl's and hotel chain La Quinta.

Coremetrics measures the user experience on Bombay's site.

Inventory management marked another improvement in Bombay's attitude toward e-commerce.

Last year, for example, its online gift center often was out of stock. The company did not reserve enough SKUs for online sales, instead taking whatever was left from the store or catalog.

Corey changed the planning, buying and allocation for Internet operations. He and his team keep an active daily track of SKU inventory in the warehouse. Even the promotions are tracked.

In addition, the company projects purchase behavior and volume across all channels. That ability becomes all the more necessary as Bombay uses more online channels to sell its products. In late September it opened an online store on Amazon for its entire Bombay brand. Exposure to Amazon's 35 million shoppers is the key incentive.

In other tools, Bombay is using freestanding inserts with coupons and catalogs by e-mail to boost its online file. When Corey joined the company 1 1/2 years ago, Bombay had 15,000 opt-in e-mail addresses in its databases. It now has more than 400,000.

Inserts play a major role in drawing attention to the Bombay site. They run monthly in Sunday newspapers across the top 20 markets. The e-mailed catalogs are working as well. Recipients get an e-mail saying the Bombay catalog has arrived. They click and it opens a browser window.

Corey is confident that these experiences will encourage more consumers to volunteer their e-mail addresses. He wants to have 1 million consumers in Bombay's online database by the end of 2004.

"The message for direct marketers is clear," Schueler said. "Understand the user experience because visit success determines whether your investment in acquisition pays huge dividends or runs down the drain. Will Rogers was right: 'You only get one chance to make a first impression.'"


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