What Is Eddie Bauer Doing Right?

For several weeks running, Eddie Bauer has occupied the top slot in Keynote Systems’ E-Commerce Transaction Performance Index, handily beating out much larger players like Amazon and Wal-Mart.

Troy Brown, divisional vice president of e-commerce at Eddie Bauer, told the E-Commerce Times that there is no magic mix of hardware and software in use. Rather, the company stays on top of its game by holding true to some very nontechnical tactics derived from Eddie himself.

“When he launched the company, he would literally run from customer to customer,” Brown said. “Our goal is to bring that to our site.”

Staying on Top

Staying at the peak of the Keynote index is no small feat. The company measures how sites perform in terms of load balancing, capacity, speed and reliability, among other factors.

Because Keynote tests sites on multiple browsers and from different locations around the United States at different hours of the day, a site that has uneven performance cannot be king of the hill.

“Eddie Bauer is doing a lot right,” Jeff Morgan, Keynote product manager, told the E-Commerce Times. “They’re doing things from an operational and a design standpoint, and that allows them to stand out.”

Morgan noted that the retailer is especially diligent in making sure its content is optimized for the Web.

“This is a challenge for many e-tailers,” he said. “You usually have to sacrifice the quality of the images to make sure that loading is faster to satisfy the customer.”

Beyond Hardware

Brian Walker, a project development consultant for Eddie Bauer, told the E-Commerce Times that the company’s Web site is Microsoft-based — itis powered by Windows 2000 and uses a SQL 7 server.

However, he was quick to add that the retailer’s computing back end is less important than ensuring customer happiness.

“We strive to maintain a simple Web architecture,” he said. “Whenever we’re making any kind of vendor decision, customer service is our principal consideration. That’s all we think about when we look at what vendors are able to provide — how it will affect the customer experience on the site.”

Walker added that in the vendor choice process, it can be tricky to boost performance if it means accepting even the smallest impact on usability. If customers will be put off by the change, he said, the company will go in another direction.

“I’d like to tell you that there’s a silver bullet,” Brown noted. “But it’s not technology that’s making a difference. It’s everyone on the tech team understanding that their goal is to improve performance for the customer.”

Visitor Center

Dedication to perfecting the user experience is nothing new for e-tailers. Every company constantly tweaks its site and hopes those changes will lure more customers. But Eddie Bauer seems to go above and beyond the call of customer duty.

In the company’s headquarters is a customer experience lab, where users surf the site and suggest changes. Any potential change to the site is tested extensively in this lab. If it fails the lab test, it is discarded, according to Brown.

“We say that our site is designed by our customers, for our customers,” he said. “Customers are involved in every step of design and improvement.”

At Your Command

Changes that have come out of the lab include better checkout design, use of larger thumbnails for product shots, more useful pricing information and a store locator with maps and driving directions.

Customers also asked for multiple ways to shop, including a method for finding an item featured in one of the company’s mail-order catalogs. The result, the “catalog quick order” feature, has proven to be one of the site’s most popular features.

An ongoing tweaking process that also occurs in the lab affects how much information appears on the site. As Brown said: “Customers need information to make decisions, but too much can be paralyzing, and not enough can be frustrating. You need to have just enough, and in the right format.”

The lab has been operating for two years, and Brown said the amount of change that has taken place in that time period has been staggering. Eddie Bauer has seen a large decrease in cart abandonment and a big boost in new customers, he noted.

Full Speed Ahead

Although Eddie Bauer is the Keynote index king right now, it does not plan to rest on its accomplishments. Plans are afoot to make even better use of the site and to raise customer satisfaction by integrating online efforts with brick-and-mortar stores.

“We’re very excited to leverage technology for the stores,” Brown said. “We’ve focused on the catalog customers in the past, and it’s worked out wonderfully. Now, we see more opportunity to get store customers to come to the site.”

Eddie Bauer’s goal is to have its site, catalogs and stores feel like a single large entity to customers — and part of that is providing a killer online experience.

“We have a consistent message,” Brown said. “It’s that we’ll run to the customer, and we’ll always try to be worthy of the customer’s high esteem.”

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