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E-commerce is always changing; e-tailers use meticulous testing to increase conversions and revenue year after year. A/B testing creates a superior online shopping experience that makes businesses more profitable while keeping up with users’ needs.

Take a look at how sales have skyrocketed in the 2000s alone:

ecommerce sales CRO

And how it’s projected to continue:

ecommerce sales CRO

Baymard conducted a usability benchmark of the top 100 e-commerce sites ranked by checkout performance (6,300 checkout elements on 100 sites across 6 themes). Inspired by their idea, we analyzed trends of evolving homepages using the Wayback Machine. Some had radical redesigns, but most sites used iterative A/B testing, which resulted in insightful learnings.

From rebranded logos to the standardization of customer service phone numbers, you’ll see that the web moves fast. The internet has grown to over 3 billion users today (nearly half the world’s population) and it’s more important than ever to continuously optimize your site.

Take notes and gain takeaways from the evolution of the top 25 ecommerce stores through time. Here are stores 21-30 (check back next week for the next set!):

30. Drs. Foster and Smith
29. Aeropostale
28. Williams-Sonoma
27. Musician’s Friend
26. Target
25. Buy.com
24. Microsoft
23. Amway
22. YOOX Group
21. Coldwater Creek


#30 Drs. Foster and Smith

Founded in 1983, this pet supply store has grown rapidly into a $250 million business (2008). It began as a mail order service based in Wisconsin and began taking online orders in 1998.

Some takeaways from the decade:

  • Similar to clothing retailers, they also use segmentation, but mainly between dogs, cats, and a few other popular pet categories.
  • With free shipping offers and low price guarantees, they tested presentation by showing it in a coupon shaped box with ridges, which helped convert catalog readers into e-commerce customers.
  • Recently began emphasizing value props more by using it in hero images or under the top navigation.

#29 Aeropostale

They are traditionally known as a shopping mall-based retailer of apparel with over 900 stores in the U.S. All of their merchandise is designed and sourced by the company itself. Aeropostale reported $2.34 billion in revenue for 2011.

Some takeaways from the decade:

  • Used segmentation of gender early in the funnel to drive users to the proper items for most versions of the site. They later also added tabs at the top to further segment users between this site, their kids brand, and their women’s activewear brand.
  • Recent versions added a banner at the top to leverage sales and discount codes
  • While secondary navigation continues to change, e-mail signup always remains in the past decade.

#28 Williams-Sonoma

Williams-Sonoma sells everything from kitchenwares to home furnishings and operates more than 560 retail stores. Their portfolio of brands include Pottery Barn, West Elm, and more. They employ more than 7,700 full-time employees and have generated $4.7 billion in revenue for 2015.

Some takeaways from the decade:

  • Often uses seasonal campaigns to provide relevant products and sales for the hero image and the content surrounding it.
  • Recently implemented segmentation to drive users between the general page that features cookware or the “home” page that features furnishings and decor.
  • In the early 2010s, they tested navigation links related to the hero image or season on the right side of the page.

#27 Musician’s Friend

Musician’s Friend sells musical instruments and is a subsidiary of the chain, Guitar Center. They were one of the earliest catalog marketers in the industry. Now, they ship an average of 9,000 to 10,000 orders each day from their Kansas City distribution center.

Some takeaways from the decade:

  • One of the first to emphasize payment options prominently at the top of the page in all early iterations.
  • Uses urgency combined with free shipping or sales offers (“Hurry! Offer ends…” or “Save now until..”)
  • Continues to test top navigation (tabbed buttons with sub-categories versus dropdown list).

#26 Target

Target is one of the most well known discount retailers, second-largest to Walmart. Founded in 1902, It now operates almost 2,000 stores in the U.S. and brings in $72.62 billion in revenue.

Some takeaways from the decade:

  • Because of the vast selection of products, they used a robust navigation to categories in early versions.
  • Tested various ways to leverage banners above the hero image that promote alternative campaigns, such as daily deals, customer loyalty programs, and discount codes.
  • Recently collapsed categories into a dropdown navigation and gave more emphasis to search bar.

#25 Buy.com

Buy.com started selling computers below cost, bringing in revenue through advertising and ancillary services, such as sales of warranties and equipment leases. They sold $125 million worth of goods and services in its first full year, beating Compaq’s 1984 record for most first-year sales. In May 2010, Buy.com was acquired by Rakuten for $250 million in cash.

Some key takeaways from the last decade:

  • Emphasis on segmentation by country; they now use your IP to identify which site to show you.
  • Tested “FREE Shipping” offers with no minimum purchase threshold.
  • They prominently display a customer service number only 1 of the 15 years.

#24 Microsoft

Founded by Bill Gates and Paul Allen on April 4, 1975, the company originally developed and sold BASIC interpreters for the Altair 8800. Microsoft rose to dominate the personal computer operating system market with MS-DOS in the mid-1980s, followed by Microsoft Windows. The company’s 1986 initial public offering created three billionaires and an estimated 12,000 millionaires from Microsoft employees. Since the 1990s, it diversified from the operating system market and made a number of corporate acquisitions, including Skype Technologies for $8.5 billion.

Some key takeaways from the last decade:

  • In the early years, Microsoft utilized price incentives to grow their brand.
  • One of the first to implement a live chat option, which is no longer present today.
  • Tested witty headlines such as “Tax refund? Let us help you spend it. Shop now.”

#23 Amway Group

With 13,000 employees and over $11 billion in revenue, Amway uses a multi-level marketing model to sell a variety of products, primarily in the health, beauty, and home care markets.

Some key takeaways from the last decade:

  • Always focuses on telling a story with their home page.
  • Continues to test a variety of different models with smiling faces from loved ones romancing on the beach to adventurers hiking in the woods.
  • Became more product-focused in the last 5 years. Site still uses a carousel to display their business opportunity for those who want to be their own boss.

#22 YOOX Group

Founded by Federico Marchetti in 2000, Yoox Group is an e-commerce clothing company that serves more than 100 countries worldwide. The company has over 750 employees and annual revenues of $450 million.

Some key takeaways from the last decade:

  • Continues to focus on a superior shopping experience.
  • Tested an email subscription above the fold in the middle of their home page which now lives below the fold in the middle.
  • Constantly tests unique and provocative hero images to create an emotional trigger.

#21 Coldwater Creek

Founded in 1984 with revenues exceeding $700 million, Coldwater Creek combines retail and online to create a flawless multi-channel shopping experience. However, on April 11, 2014, Coldwater Creek announced that it was filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and ceasing operations as of early summer 2014. Now the brand is being rebuilt as a catalog and e-commerce online brand.

Some key takeaways from the last decade:

  • Continues to boast a product-centric homepage with huge discount incentives, primarily “70% OFF”.
  • Removed their static categories from the left rail.
  • Iteratively tests the search box starting with “search by product or item #” to a minimalist search box with no help text and a magnifying glass.

Conclusion

By looking at how stores 21-30 have changed in the past, we can recognize trends that became best practices for most e-commerce strategies today. We found that:

  • Segmentation is not new idea, but companies find new ways to use it, including improving navigation or accommodating product selection growth.
  • More and more sites relied on images over time to quickly communicate relevant products and deals.
  • As internet speeds increased, strategically placed banners became a more affordable way for companies to add information like sales & discounts without making the experience cluttered.
  • There was a lot of friction for buyers in the early years so many stores eventually saw shipping incentives, quality service, and convenience as necessary offers.

Use these learnings and e-commerce evolutions to keep your store updated; pay attention to emerging trends and always continuously optimize and test changes. Check in next week for part 2 of this series to see the evolution of stores 11-20!

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