December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

Gotta Have It

(Page 2 of 3)

Lekach doesn’t want just the occasional impulse shopper. He’s out to attract them in droves. In fact, almost every facet of Perfumania.com screams at the customer: “Buy this now.”

Each time a shopper logs onto the site, which was designed by Annapolis, Md.-based U.S. Internet Working, she is immediately greeted with daily “red tag” sales specials. These deals promise 70% off the regular price and free gifts for purchases over $35-if the merchandise is bought right away.

Shoppers are also never more than a click away from pages of merchandise that give them detailed product photos, information on related items, a comparison between full and discounted prices and a large red “buy now” button.

The average customer spends about $48 each time she visits Perfumania.com. But impulse buyers spend about $20 more, accounting for about 20% of revenues. That leads Lekach to believe he’s doing all the right things to attract spontaneous shoppers. “We want temptation on every single page,” stresses Lekach.

So far, the most successful merchants at online impulse selling are specialty stores in established categories such as books, music, beauty items, gourmet foods or kitchenwares. They’re also targeting specific marketing niches including young people. ITurf, for instance, has more than 15,000 registered users paying $60 per year for the chance to check out the daily specials at Discountdomain.

The site targets young spontaneous shoppers with an array of flashing headlines that invites customers to join Discountdomain today and buy a $110 Minolta camera for $49. Revolving headlines such as “want one?” also entice shoppers to click on the deal of the day, which may include a $26 halter top marked down to $14.99.

“Getting Generations X and Y to impulse buy means we are constantly mixing merchandise on the e-commerce sites to keep up with the current culture,” says Stephen I. Kahn, iTurf’s CEO.

But given the fact that spur-of-the-moment sales can have a big impact on any merchant’s bottom line, large chains and catalogers with e-commerce sites certainly aren’t ignoring online impulse buyers-they’re just trying to implement merchandising strategies that work.

For example, Seattle-based Nordstrom Inc. rotates a feature on its Web store that offers shoppers a chance to impulse buy. On a recent day a $67 leather wallet was featured on the Web store’s front page under the headline “Impulse Buy Of The Day.” Shoppers could click on the wallet, read a product description, zoom in closer to examine the item’s features and then browse through a list of accessories.

Offline retailers are constantly experimenting with product placement, eye-catching merchandise displays and other tactics to entice spontaneous shopping. But on the Internet some are trying a different approach and sticking with one main strategy: rock-bottom pricing.

The nearly 80 merchants that belong to the Impulse Buy Network, an online merchandise software developer and shopping service acquired by San Mateo, Calif.-based Inktomi Corp. in June, aren’t really interested in fancy graphics and deep site content for their excess inventory and about-to-be liquidated merchandise. They want to entice shoppers who already know in advance what they want by offering sale items at rock-bottom prices.

Right between the eyes

“When it comes to impulse buying, sometimes shoppers have to be hit right between the eyes,” says Stuart M. Spiegel, vice president and general manager, e-commerce services, Inktomi. “The retailer has to make the shopper think ‘Hey, I want one of those.’ ”

That strategy appears to be working for the merchant members of Impulse Buy.

Last year, Lands’ End Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and other major retailers used Impulse Buy and Inktomi to offer more than two million products at reduced prices.

But not all successful impulse buying strategies have to be as hard sell as hooking shoppers with the lowest possible price. Sometimes a soft sales approach can be just as effective. For example, Berkeley, Calif.-based Time for Wine.com, which went live on the Web in September, has teamed up with Brightware Inc., an Internet customer assistance software developer in Novato, Calif., to build an online question/answer customer dialogue program that subtly nudges shoppers to impulse buy.

Instead of making shoppers fill out a series of electronic forms, The Time for Wine program will use artificial intelligence to obtain information. These applications will engage the customer in a low-key interactive exchange that the retailer believes will pay off with frequent impulse buys.

I’ve got a question

For instance, once a shopper has clicked on the site and selects a particular wine category, the interactive program will ask the customer a series of questions: What price did you have in mind? What vintage are you looking for? What wine-growing region do you prefer? Once the questions are answered, the shopper is immediately supplied with information such as storage and serving tips and shown a series of related wine merchandise, including openers, corks, stemware and certain gourmet foods.

The dialogue program isn’t an inexpensive feature to add to the Web store. (Time for Wine is spending more than $50,000 on the software.) But Time for Wine founder and CEO Catrine Fraser believes the software investment is worth it. Not only is she counting on impulse sales to be a big part of her business, but she needs a competitive edge in a category already populated by Virtual Vineyard and merchants. “The wine business is very personal and retailers must talk the customer through to find out exactly what they’re looking for and then make recommendations on stemware or a special cheese that goes well with a particular burgundy,” Fraser says. “This is how impulse buying happens in a wine shop and it’s the kind of environment we’re creating on the Web.”

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