If there’s one category of retailer that really needs to pay attention to the quality of its web shopping experience, it’s the Computers/Electronics/-CDs retailers. From the start of online retailing, computers, consumer electronics and CDs have been top selling categories for a good reason: Their customers are among the most technologically forward-looking, not just among the population as a whole but even among web users, who lead the population in tech smarts. Need proof? “We sell more leading-edge products online than we do in stores,” says Barry Judge, vice president of marketing for Best Buy.
Thus it’s no surprise that the tech sites are among the retailing innovators on the web. BestBuy.com plans to become one of the first sites not operated by a computer manufacturer where a customer can configure a computer to specifications. IGo.com offers greatly detailed descriptions of its portable computer accessories and a constant update of its site as new products come out-as they do frequently in the high-tech world. “We have to have the web to compete in this market,” says Al Ingallerina, director of corporate marketing for iGo’s parent, Mobility Electronics Inc. “Our cost structure would increase significantly if it required a phone call to determine the compatibility of accessories for new products, given the velocity at which new products enter our market.”
And so the sites in this category employ such technology as live chat, which TechnoScout.com is trying to marry to personalized product recommendations, and the latest search and browse technology, which is an area where TowerRecords.com has been a leader.
But the high-tech approach to the web doesn’t come just when a customer is shopping on the Internet. RadioShack Corp., for instance, is equipping all its stores with customer accessible kiosks with broadband Internet access. The kiosks will serve multiple purposes; they will be shopping terminals for customers who can’t find what they want in the store and they’ll be information resources for sales personnel to answer customers’ questions. “We want customers to make a logical connection between RadioShack.com and the RadioShack store in their neighborhood,” says David Goyne, senior vice president and general manager of RadioShack.com. “When we’re not meeting them face-to-face, we’re trying to show them online how RadioShack can help manage their complicated, electronic world.”
Sharper Image’s insight into its customers can apply equally well to all the high-tech sites in this year’s Top 50. “Our customers’ expectations are very high,” says Tracy Wan, COO.
The biggest Best Buy store
There’s something big in store for Best Buy Co. Inc.’s BestBuy.com, and it’s not just a big-screen TV. Or a personally configured personal computer, though you’ll soon be able to get both at Best Buy’s web site.
“We look at BestBuy.com as our biggest store,” says Barry Judge, vice president of marketing. That makes it the largest of more than 500 stores, counting all the brick-and-mortar varieties. And in a redesign set for a May launch, when it moves to a new UNIX computer platform, BestBuy.com will become the ultimate multi-channel partner to the consumer electronics chain’s physical locations, Judge says.
Best Buy, building on its reputation as a fun place to shop for all kinds of electronics products for the home, wants to bring that experience into the home as much as possible. Its new site will offer more personalized cross-merchandising and service by responding to shoppers’ click histories, and it will allow Best Buy to provide improved self-help and order tracking services. In addition, the new platform will enable it to display the same multi-product promotions on the web as it does in weekly newspaper fliers. Shoppers will see a complete synchronization of offline and online marketing, supporting multi-channel shopping, Judge says.
“We’re looking for the store to complement the web, and for the web to complement the store,” he says. “We want to provide a consistent multi-channel shopping experience, enabling customers to shop wherever they want.” The new web site platform will also enable the company to support for the first time all six of Best Buy’s corporate sister brands in the U.S. and Canada, including Future Shop, Magnolia Hi-Fi and Sam Goody, he adds.
Neil Stern, a principal with retail consultants McMillan/Doolitte in Chicago, says BestBuy.com’s biggest role over the past few years has been in driving traffic to the stores. But in offering free shipping on all orders, regardless of size, he adds, Best Buy has been indicating a potentially bigger role for the web.
Its web strategy has worked well so far, with more than 10 million unique monthly visits-and far more during the holidays. And it has proved that some products sell best on the web, such as digital cameras and personal video recorders. “We tend to sell more leading-edge products online,” Judge says.
To round out the multi-channel experience, Best Buy has also brought the web into the store. Its stores now offer web kiosks that allow shoppers to log onto BestBuy.com, a service that’s mostly used to order items that a store has run out of. “The free shipping makes it real,” Judge says.
> 10 million/mo.
WebSideStory Inc.’s Hitbox
Interwoven Inc., Vignette Corp.