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*Nordstrom.com's Goal: Make It Easier to Find, Buy Items

Fashion retailer Nordstrom.com has begun testing a new look to its site — a bold move since it comes in the middle of the retailer's famed annual anniversary sale.

The makeover, which is expected to be completed by the end of August, focuses on better navigation for browsing and transacting, a result of extensive feedback from customers who found room for improvement at Nordstrom.com, according to the retailer.

“It's still the same sassy look, but it's as much directional as it is sales-focused,” said Shasha Richardson, spokeswoman at Nordstrom.com, Seattle, a nearly 2-year-old subsidiary of Nordstrom Inc.

At issue is a problem bedeviling most online retailers who stock many product categories: How to showcase the depth of offerings and yet enable customers to cut a quick swathe from searching to shopping to buying?

Nordstrom.com is a typical example. At last count, the retailer offered 6,702 styles and 47,313 stock-keeping units or items of apparel and accessories for men and women. Add to that the 3,000 styles and 30 million pairs of shoes on subsite Nordstromshoes.com.

According to the latest data available from Nielsen//NetRatings, New York, an Internet media and market research provider, Nordstrom.com received an estimated 412,000 unique monthly visitors shopping from home in May.

In its earlier incarnation, Nordstrom.com offered almost the same inventory and most of the upscale name brands also found in Nordstrom catalogs. Yet consumers felt the site’s layout and terrain could be made easier to use.

“We spent several months speaking with our customers about the site and what they wanted to see when shopping with us,” Richardson said, “and the feedback we received focused on enhanced ability to search for products with ease, the ability to locate brands quickly and they wanted a really fast, straightforward checkout process.”

“There was an inconsistent look between our shoe landing and our home page,” she added. “And the navigation was different between shoes and apparel, and we wanted to create a consistent look and feel and a consistent navigation process between those two.”

All that will change. Visitors to the site through Aug. 6 will see the anniversary sale occupying almost the entire home page. After that, the site will break the opening page into separate sections for women, men, sales, shoes, jewelry and gifts.

Simple lettering on the home page sidebar will highlight the key aids necessary for online shopping, including site registration, online catalogs, returns and exchanges, individual accounts and e-mail subscriptions.

Visuals on the new home page will change every month, though the format will stay the same. The landing page, which immediately is pulled up after clicking, say, on the women's department tab, will change every two weeks.

But a key feature is the prominent search box placed right above these listings on the home page. Advanced searches also can be made by category, subcategory, brand, color and price range. This will be complemented by the Power Browse option that narrows the search to a product in three clicks.

“Their searching was in desperate need of being shot and put out of its misery,” said Lisa Allen, senior analyst at Forrester Research, Cambridge, MA. “And it's now better, although it's not perfect.”

Nordstrom.com's Richardson said beta-testing was in progress, so it may take until relaunch for the site to become what the retailer envisions for it.

“Definitely, our customers have told us that [our search feature] is an area they'd like us to improve,” Richardson said. “Because we have such a wide selection of merchandise, it's critical that we provide a powerful tool for our customers to help them find what they're looking for. We hope with the relaunch of our site that we will meet their expectations.”

Forrester's Allen agrees.

“Their products need to be tagged in a way that customers can find,” Allen said. “Not every shopper finds the same topic the same way. What some sites do is look through click-stream data to see what customers look for and how they're looking for it [and] what the common misspellings are.”

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