TowerRecords.com wasn't unhappy with the search engine behind the video/DVD section of its Web site, but last year, it replaced it anyway. Why? Because execs at the retailer decided that integrating the navigation of their site with powerful search capabilities would improve business on the site. Now, after several months of collecting encouraging metrics, Tower has combined with its vendor, Endeca Technologies Inc., whose InFront navigation engine lets Web sites turn the act of browsing into a de facto search, to similarly update the music portion of its site.
The way it works on the Tower site is this: The home page is designed to resemble an entertainment portal. If you select music, you're taken to a page that looks like a music portal, sometimes referred to as a portlet. Then, on the music page, if you select a certain artist being promoted, you go to a portlet for that artist. Each click narrows the information presented but still presents it as a portal-type package. And if you like offbeat stuff that won't show up that quickly, you can plug an artist's name into the search engine and up pops, say, a John Coltrane portlet.
Of course, the portlets are only populated with links to Tower products and promotional information, but Tower's not complaining. In fact, the company may be laughing its way to the bank. In the first 16 weeks that the technology was used for the video/CD portion of the site, video sales were up 29%, conversion rates (that's how many visitors become buyers) were up 8.5%, and average order sizes had grown 28%. While Tower hasn't compiled such specific numbers for music, Mark Bressler, managing director of TowerRecords.com, says conversion rates are definitely rising.
Bressler estimates that Endeca's InFront technology, for which the retailer pays a monthly fee for a combination of software and hosting, is paying for itself on the first day of every month. He wouldn't reveal the amount of the monthly fee. Says Bressler, "We're ecstatic about it, and our customers are, too."