Fewer Promos Build Stronger Tower Home Page

Reducing the clutter of merchandising promotions on its Web site home page is working for music retailer Tower Records.

Cutting back the number of promotions on its home page to three from 15 to 20 last year has prompted a steady rise in click throughs and a lift in CD and DVD sales.

“Most of the promotions we were doing, less than 1 percent of our traffic was even going to them, where now we're getting between 7 percent to 15 percent of our traffic going to those promotions, [and] sales have increased 20 percent,” said Kevin Ertell, senior vice president of online operations at Tower, Sacramento, CA.

Tower also is learning what works best in a home page promotion. Take a promo for music group Thrice's “The Artist in the Ambulance” album. Placed June 24-27 on the towerrecords.com home page, it offered a free T-shirt and a sample digital download with the $9.99 CD.

Tower sold nearly 3,800 Thrice CDs during the promotion. The offer was exclusive to Tower, with the T-shirts supplied by the record company Island Def Jam.

“In fact, it's one of our biggest promotions yet,” Ertell said.

The learning did not come easily or without help. But Ertell is out to spread the word to other online retailers attending Worldwide Business Research's eTail 2003 East conference in Boston Aug. 11-14.

At eTail, Ertell will share the podium with direct marketing executives from eBay Inc., Gap Inc., Best Buy Co., Nike and the National Basketball Association. He will explain that Web analytics are essential. This is more so in understanding consumer behavior on a retail site's most valuable real estate, the home page.

Tower used Mountain View, CA-based software company Fireclick Inc.'s Netflame traffic analytics aggregator and Site Explorer, a browser plug-in that shows the percentage of people clicking on various areas of the Web page.

Such analytical tools let Tower get a graphic view of the merchandising offers that people are responding to and promos that may be duds.

Empowered with better analysis, Tower gave its home page a cleaner look. Fewer promotions were placed with even more prominence. The Thrice promo, for example, was smack dab in the middle of the page above the fold. Clicking on the link took visitors to the relevant product page.

Before the makeover, the home page also was cluttered with too much text that was hard to read. The idea was to widen the appeal as well as close a sale as quickly as possible. As with many retailers, that thinking was ingrained in the Tower mindset.

“People here got used to seeing the page all the time, so it wasn't difficult for them,” Ertell said. “But customers coming for the first time were obviously struggling with it. They weren't clicking on the page.

“We realized that 65 percent of the people that came to the page were searching immediately. So we knew that we needed to make whatever promotions we put in there really jump out.”

Consumers seem to like free T-shirts and anything personalized like signed CD booklets. They also look at recommendations. Another area that seems to get high click throughs and conversions is the Artist of the Month effort, with frequent value adds like a free sampler or digital downloads for every CD bought.

Tower's formula is still evolving. But the pattern so far that works is a big promotion on the home page accompanied by two smaller ones. This resembles merchandising by other department store retailers that sell online like JC Penney and Gap.

“We used to load everything on there,” Ertell said. “I think everybody followed the Amazon model for a long time. But we found that it wasn't working. We spent an awful lot of time putting an awful lot of stuff on our home page, and nobody was looking at it, clicking on it to make it worthwhile.

“I see it across the board,” he said. “But once we started looking at it correctly and looking at the numbers, we found that overloading the page with a lot of promotions is not at all that effective.”

This is not to say the three-promotions philosophy will always rule. Given the success of placing three promos on the home page, Tower looks to add a few more without overdoing it.

Tower applied that same less-is-more logic to its checkout page after noticing a high shopper abandonment rate. It turned to Ottawa-based click-stream data analyst WebHancer's tools.

WebHancer used its panelists to track online use, comparing their behavior on Tower's checkout versus two of its competitors. The length of stay on the sites was contrasted and mapped out.

Suspecting the answer, Tower learned that its site's checkout performance was slower. The retailer had placed far too much help text on those pages to assist shoppers through the checkout process.

“But it turned out that people were clicking through it pretty quick, way too quick to even have read the help text,” Ertell said. “It was making the pages take longer to load than our competitors'. So that's one we're going to cut down.

“We're also going to cut down the amount of pages in our section based on what we saw with some of our competitors and how our competitors with less pages had a lower abandonment rate than us and those with longer pages,” he said.

The help text will shift to a more upfront position in Tower's checkout section. This is essentially to help users navigate faster and reassure them of the safety in the buying process.

Attendees at eTail (etail2003.com) will see a common thread run through Ertell's presentation. Aptly, that conference is titled, “Expert Strategies for Delivering a Branded, Personalized and Profitable Multichannel Experience.”

“Pay attention to your analytics,” Ertell said, “but choose the right things to analyze. There's a lot of information available on Web sites compared to bricks-and-mortar retailers. There's so much information to look at. My main theme is to try to choose the right information, focus on it, react to it and study the results.”

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