You know your website needs to be more shopper-friendly, but if you aren't a web designer, where do you go for help? Concept Feedback provides a way for online merchants to get advice to help them improve the design and usability of their websites.
Things look different from the other side of the looking glass: Alice discovered it when she went to Wonderland, and the folks inside the Beltway in Washington know it (or at least, they should).
When it comes to ecommerce, this simply means that you aren't the best critic when it comes to your own website or the configuration of your online business. Even those who design websites and act as consultants to ecommerce entrepreneurs need an objective outside opinion about their presentation and organization. But you can't always depend on friends and coworkers to provide timely, useful feedback.
That's what Andrew Follett discovered a few years ago, when he was working as a marketing manager for a small Chicago-area business. "We were consistently using contractors to develop new Web sites, e-newsletters, and advertising campaigns," he says. "I had a decent eye for design, but had no formal training, and I wanted to make sure the work was the best it could be. The owner and I would send out mockups and new projects to our friends and co-workers via email to get feedback, but often there was no response, or the feedback was difficult to organize and act on. After a few rounds of family and friends' feedback, I decided there had to be a better way."
Follett, 26 and just a few years out of Wheaton College, where he majored in Business and Economics, started Concept Feedback. The Chicago-based company provides objective feedback from experts in design, usability, and business strategy.
When you become a member of Concept Feedback (CF), you can get feedback in one of two ways: you can solicit comments from other members for free in the site's community forums, or pay $100 for an expert to give you input. Business owners can choose from one to 15 experts.
Since launching in 2009, CF has built a community of 10,000 members who give one another free feedback at ConceptFeedback.com/concepts. Several hundred clients have paid for comments, filling out a form in which they describe the target market they want to reach, and any specifics they want the panel of experts to reach. Businesspeople can choose specific experts, whose biographies and areas of expertise are published on the site.
According to Follett, small businesses with limited resources need feedback from professional consultants, and Concept Feedback gives them an affordable way to get it. "At a small business, resources are limited, and often there is no budget for a high-end designer, usability expert, or strategy consultant," says Follett. "There also isn't the time or money to put toward hiring a focus group or performing usability testing."
Interestingly, the business owners who responded with their own feedback about Concept Feedback are consultants themselves. Kyle Hawke is co-founder of Whinot, a virtual consulting firm that helps small businesses and entrepreneurs develop marketing plans by crowdsourcing (giving them access to dozens of consultants rather than just one) so they can expand into new markets.
"The quality of the feedback provided by the community of expert designers is well worth the price tag," says Hawke. "The feedback is not limited to "This looks good," or "I don't like it." You get a list of actionable suggestions on design, usability, and even marketing communications."
Most entrepreneurs come to Concept Feedback looking for ways to increase conversions on their websites - to turn casual visitors into paying customers. "Sales may have plateaued or started to decline, and they're looking for recommendations to turn things around," Follette says. "We also deal with a lot of people in the redesign process. They're getting ready to launch a new site, but want to make sure it's going to accomplish the goals before investing in a launch."
Richard Miles, founder and Chief Strategy Officer for Kickstart Growth, is also a consultant, providing planning, strategy, marketing, and revenue generation help for clients like ReadSmart. "One of the things I offer is an "outsider's" view - in other words, people inside the company suffer from the curse of knowledge. They know what their product is and does, they think the benefits are clear, and they think the way they explain it is obvious. But more often than not, people outside don't get it."
But when it came to his own website and for ReadSmart, he, too, needed outside help. "I turned to CF for my own site because of course, I am the ultimate insider to my own stuff, and found the feedback I got extremely helpful in further refining and articulating my own messaging about what I do. One of the things I found surprising was that while I consider myself an expert and someone who is really, really good at communicating, the CF community didn't immediately "get it" when looking at the early ReadSmart designs, and this helped me enormously in refining the design and messaging of the site."
Follett has found that ecommerce business owners frequently overlook two things when they are developing or redesigning their online presence: guest checkout, and site search.
"Ecommerce sites should allow guest checkout and not require pre-registration," he suggests. "On some sites or services (like ours), this is not an option, but if you're shipping a product (like Amazon), pre-registration can be a conversion killer. Second, invest in a quality, finely-tuned site search tool. Products should be auto-suggested and allow for typos."
Working with Concept Feedback has provided benefits that go beyond tuning up Web pages, say Miles and Hawke. Hawke, for his part, hired one of the designers from whom he obtained advice, and Miles says working with the Concept Feedback design and usability community "has been a fantastic education. CF offers companies and designers the benefit of working with a large, creative and experienced design team without the concurrent overhead."