Indigo Books & Inc. Monday unveiled the first phase of a three-part plan to overhaul its e-commerce portal and steal market share from other online merchants such as

The company will be spending “”millions and millions of dollars”” over the next 12 months in a refresh of that will go beyond changes to the look and feel that went live Nov. 1. The project will involve “”rewriting the application from soup to nuts,”” according to vice-president of online Johnathan Ehrlich.

In the first half of next year, for example, Indigo plans to launch a new order management system that will improve the customer interface and give the retailer more flexibility in how it routes orders, Ehrlich said. Indigo uses third-party software with consulting services for its site, he said.

“”It’s really about replacing one of the big structural pieces of the engine,”” he said. “”There’s been a fundamental sea change in the way software is architected. It’s about embracing that at the order management level.””

The final phase of the overhaul will focus on the business logic of Indigo’s Web engine at the application layer.

“”If we’re talking about replacing really large chunks at the heart of it, the things that kind of sit on top of it need to be looked at as well,”” he said. “”We’re a Microsoft shop, so it’ll be a .Net architecture.””

Ehrlich said Indigo is keeping a close eye on how some online retailers are exposing their IT platforms to development parties so they can build unique applications on top of it. This includes the open source moment, as well as how has put out some of its APIs. “”We’re not suggesting we’re going to get there immediately, but (we’re) giving ourselves the flexibility to do that, “” he said. “”In terms of a model, eBay has done a fantastic job of making their application quite open but also putting strict rules around the things that control it.””

The front-end redesign was intended to bring content to customers more directly instead of asking them to find it, he said. That means more strategic use of search results or banners tied to a specific item or offer. Another theme was to minimize the amount of non-relevant information. Ehrlich said one of his biggest critiques of other e-commerce sites is that they have no hierarchy in messaging.

“”The other UI was great, but we had scale issues with it,”” he said. “”The business was growing at a pretty good clip for the last few years, and we wanted to stay with the general structure, but clean it up from a usability standpoint.””

According to ComScore Media Metrix Canada, the number of unique visitors to rose 27 per cent to 698,000 in September, while those of rival rose 37 per cent to hit 1.3 million people.

Indigo will be judging the success of its site redesign by the conversion rate of browsers who become buyers, Ehrlich said. That includes finding information about a specific product or store location. “”All those metrics in terms of page views, in terms of unique visitors — they’re important, but the big one is being able to find information. And on the transaction, how well we get customers to buy.””

Indigo has spent the last two years on a $20 million SAP implementation to enhance the order fulfillment side of its business, and will be taking full advantage of its capabilities as its Web site is revamped, Ehrlich added.


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