Enlist metrics, colleagues and customers to make your case, a conference speaker says.

Brilliant design concepts will never pay off if a retailer’s CEO doesn’t give the go-ahead to implement them. With that in mind, an e-retail CEO explained today how to get top-level approval for a web site redesign in a session at the Internet Retailer Design & Usability Conference in Orlando.

Brian Elliott, president and CEO of Monsoon Commerce, parent company of book and music retailer Alibris.com, focused on four strategies for persuading top executives to green light a redesign project:

  • Provide specific metrics, such as what percentage improvement in conversion on a particular page can be attained. Also, explain what resources will be needed, both in dollars and staff time.
  • Let your customers help sell the concept, by letting the CEO see complaints, and also, at the right time, letting him sit in on usability tests that demonstrate the benefits of a new design. Elliott noted that the management page on Alibris.com invites e-mail from customers. “I get those e-mails,” he said. “It keeps me in the flow.”
  • Enlist other members of the management team to push for the project. Figure out who is an advocate of the idea you’re promoting. In some cases, he said, that can be an influential outsider who knows the company well.
  • Focus on making the site more usable, rather than making it pretty. “There are times,” Elliott said, “when the design agency comes forward and they’ve got great interesting, beautiful design ideas, but they haven’t addressed the core usability problems.”

Elliott advised taking an evolutionary rather than revolutionary approach to redesigns whenever possible, for instance, fixing one section or feature of a site rather than completely overhauling it. But that’s not always possible, as in the case when a retailer adds a major product line or merges with another company.

In those cases, it’s important to have a plan for what the site will ultimately look like, even as a retailer may implement one piece at a time. Without a long-term vision, each piece of the site could look so different from every other piece, he said, that the site could have the design characteristics of a Frankenstein monster.

Alibris, a marketplace for sellers of used books, music and movies, is No. 116 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.