November 25, 2002, 12:00 AM

Computers/Electronics/CDs: High-tech sites for tech-smart shoppers

(Page 5 of 6)

The web, the newest channel, is also the fastest growing. “Internet sales have been very robust, increasing 30-40% annually,” Wan says. Internet sales have grown to about $60 million, more than 10% of expected overall sales this year of $500 million.

The strength of SharperImage.com, she adds, helps the company in several ways. Most important, it has enabled Sharper Image to offer better service to its demanding customers, letting them shop in whatever channel they please. They can even order online from within a store, in case they see a must-have product but don’t want to wait in the checkout line. “We’re committed to high levels of customer service on the web, in-store and through the 800 number,” Wan says. “Our customer expectations are extremely high.”

And for a company that is known for the uncommonly bold, the web also helps it to fill out a product line that for practical reasons it doesn’t roll out into every store, such as the full arcade-size Austin Powers Pinball machine. It takes up too much space for most stores, but its image as an unusual and entertaining item is still important to the complete picture of Sharper Image, Wan says.

To overcome the challenges of retailing of the past year, she asserts, it’s important to offer a broad range of products that shoppers find relevant, intriguing and innovative-and that requires effective merchandising in all channels. On the web, of course, it also requires site performance, which Sharper Image is improving through a search mechanism that drills further down into product selections. “We pay attention to what customers need,” Wan says.

SharperImage.com

Date
1995
Unique Visitors
484,580/mo.*
Sales
$60 million/yr.
Site Search
in-house
CRM
in-house
Affiliate Management
LinkShare Corp.
Fulfillment
in-house
Order Management
in-house
Returns Liquidation
in-house
Web Analytics
in-house
Payment Processor
First National Bank of Omaha
Content Management
in-house
E-mail Management
in-house
*As reported by comScore Networks Inc.

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TechnoScout
Putting pizzazz behind technology

TechnoScout.com is on a dual mission: to teach people about new technology that they can use in their everyday lives and to use technology in a way that encourages shoppers to buy high-tech products from TechnoScout.com. “Our merchandising strategy is to bring the latest technology that helps solve everyday problems,” says Joel Skretvedt, director of Internet operations for the unit of TechnoBrands Inc., which sells via web site, catalog and call center.

TechnoScout presents that technology in an informative yet entertaining way. Its recently redesigned home page features a top-center article on a product of broad appeal. A recent article, for example, featured the high-tech characteristics of a “smart bed” visco-elastic foam sleeping surface developed by NASA.

Its level of service and breadth of useful, state-of-the-art products wins it applause. “Techno-Scout is easy to maneuver, it’s easy to find products and you get a quick response,” says Kathryn Cullen, analyst with Kurt Salmon Associates. “They offer interesting products, and you can get more information on products they are investigating.”

TechnoScout practices what it preaches when it comes to technology; it’s an innovator in using live chat-particularly notable on a site with sales of only $10 million, 25% of TechnoBrands total sales. For instance, while reading about the bed topper, a shopper is treated to a moving image of Santa and his reindeer toting a Happy Holidays discount certificate. Clicking it brings the shopper into a live chat session with a customer service rep, who will ask what product the shopper is interested in, offer a price discount, and ask if he needs any other information. TechnoScout has a staff of 16 live chat reps.

TechnoScout continues to work on ways to leverage technology to increase the online business. It’s still striving, for example, for the best way to use live chat to support its merchandising efforts. Its site captures customer shopping behavior, so customer service reps can be alerted to a shopper’s interests as expressed in previous visits. But figuring out how and when to present merchandising promotions in the most effective way will take time, Skretvedt says. “If I know you have viewed a product and added it to your shopping cart, but have never purchased it, then to close that sale I need to figure out the best time to give you a special offer, how to show you that offer and how many times,” he says.

TechnoScout appears to be in good position to figure out those parameters. Meantime, it has plenty of subjects to study. TechnoScout averages over 1 million unique visitors each month. “And more than 20% of them return within 30 days,” Skretvedt says.

TechnoScout.com

Date
1995
Unique Visitors
>1 million/mo.
Sales
> $10 million
Site Search
in-house
CRM
Live Person Inc.
Affiliate Management
Be Free Inc.
Fulfillment
Page Digital Inc.
Order Management
in-house
Returns Liquidation
in-house
Web Analytics
NetIQ Corp.’s Webtrends,
Live Person Inc.
Payment Processor
Paymentech L.P.
Content Management
in-house
E-mail Management
DoubleClick Inc.

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Tower Records
Tower of web power

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