Hallmark rebuilds site, reaps rewards

Improved response times also improves customer conversion rate

For months, Hallmark Cards had been building a new Web site in parallel with its old one. On a September night last year, past midnight, Hallmark's online team arrived at its moment of truth, the switch-over.

Would the new site work? Paul Barker, the vice president and general manager of Hallmark Digital, which manages the company's online presence, wasn't certain of it.

"We were all kind of standing around waiting for it to break, waiting for it to crash, and it didn't -- it was a real confidence booster, I think, for the entire organization," Barker said.

But he still had concerns. Would conversion rates, or sales, be hurt by it? This project was a complete re-architecture and platform shift.

"We expected to have a lower conversion rate because we thought, with a new site, it was going to take some time for people to get used to it," Barker said.

Instead, Hallmark says its conversion rate increased by 30%.

The company also said customers experienced a 370% improvement in site response time. "Our response time would erode significantly during the peak times," Barker said. "That was an unacceptable level of performance."

The response time improvement began when Savvis was hired as its hosting provider and Infosys, the India-based offshore firm, as its primary application developer. Response times from 2009 to 2010 improved two to three times, but after launching the new version of Hallmark.com last September, response times in December improved by more than 50% over the previous year.

Although the exact before- and after-response times weren't immediately available from Hallmark, Ken Godskind, the chief strategy officer for AlertSite, a Web performance management company, said Hallmark's percentage improvement "leads me to feel like [the previous response time] must have been really scary before."

Barker said that AlertSites findings mirror its data as well. "We feel we are performing very well."

Today, Hallmark's site is very responsive. At Computerworld's request, AlertSite benchmarked Hallmark.com's homepage Wednesday afternoon from 12 cities and came up with an average response time of 2.47 seconds, putting it at about 15th on its most recent rankings of response times among the retail sites it ranks. The benchmark average was 3.35 seconds.

Prior to the makeover, Hallmark was adding a growing catalog of features that included loyalty points, address books and reminders of key events such as birthdays and other customer services. It was adding this functionality to a site that already had more than 5,000 products.

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