November 25, 2002, 12:00 AM

Specialty/Non-Apparel: Anything and Everything

(Page 5 of 6)

It’s all about the baseball season and its flash points at MLB.com, Major League Baseball’s 2-year-old content and commerce site, owned by the teams themselves. MLB.com aggregates the web sites of the 30 teams, giving each a similar look and feel, and centralizing fans’ access to content and merchandise for any team under the portal MLB.com. Under that strategy, MLB.com/Shop leverages one of the country’s most visible brands into a successful retail operation. In its first year, it doubled sales of licensed merchandise over the previous year’s collective sales of teams who’d been operating sites on their own, says Garden, senior vice president at MLB Advanced Media.

The teams that had sites before joining forces in MLB.com were using them for different purposes, notes Garden, with some viewing the web primarily as a marketing vehicle and others emphasizing commerce. “Alone, the teams were not able to leverage the technology we offer all 30 teams. By centralizing, they get best-of-breed technology and offer the best service to their fans,” Garden says.

MLB Advanced Media taps into a worldwide market of displaced baseball fans hungry for news of the home team, logging in 2 million visitors daily. And while fans may first seek out MLB.com for stats and news, they come back to shop. E-commerce is a soft pitch. “We don’t hit you over the head with it,” Garden says. “We provide free content to get fans closer to the game-and oh by the way, we also have commerce.” MLB.com/Shop will rack up $25 million in sales of licensed merchandise this year.

“The MLB.com shop is a great example of what the Internet can do well; in this case, aggregating demand that is dispersed as we get more mobile and people move farther way from their home team,” says Mary Brett Whitfield, senior vice president of Retail Forward Inc.

Without stores or catalogs, MLB.com/Shop seeks to convert Internet traffic and close sales online. But with a high-profile name that brings most visitors in through the URL and easy access to TV exposure-cameras often catch the host team’s URL behind home plate-MLB.com spends little on online advertising. It uses e-mail marketing to extend web sales, sending segmented marketing messages about every six weeks.

This year, Garden says, MLB.com/
Shop expects to double merchandise sales again. “We’re getting word out that we’re the one-stop shopping site for all MLB team merchandise,” he says.

MLB.com/Shop

Date
April 2001
Unique Visitors
396,000*/mo
Sales
$25 million
Design By
in-house
Site Search
Verity Inc.
CRM
in-house
Affiliate Management
Commission Junction Inc.
Fulfillment
Digital River Inc.
Order Management
Digital River Inc.
Returns Liquidation
Digital River Inc.
Web Analytics
NetIQ Corp.
Payment Processor
Paymentech L.P.
Content Management
in-house
E-mail Management
BoldFish Inc.
*As reported by comScore Networks Inc.

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Oriental Trading
The Orient express

Before this summer, a shopper for Halloween items at Oriental Trading Co.’s OrientalTrading.com would have had no trouble finding Halloween items; navigation to that department from the home page was simple. But when she got to the Halloween page, she might be forgiven for concluding that the company didn’t have what she was looking for. Most landing pages at OrientalTrading.com displayed six to nine product shots and many customers thought that was all the company had and so would move on.

Too bad for them because behind those six to nine were hundreds of other products; so many, in fact, that it’s almost impossible for a shopper seeking quantities of inexpensive holiday or educational items not to find what she needs. “Those shots were intended to be representative of 100 or 200 items,” says Steve Fortson, director of e-commerce for Omaha, Neb.-based Oriental Trading Co. “But many customers saw those six to nine as being the only items.”

OrientalTrading.com undertook a site re-design this summer to solve that problem. The 20 landing pages now use more text as well as graphics and categories to indicate the richness of the selection and highlight 10 to 15 best sellers. The company has seen a steadily rising conversion rate since the re-design.

Oriental Trading Co., which has been in business for 70 years and on the web since the fall of 1999, sells 10,000 SKUs to a market primarily of teachers and parents of school-age children. Its products range from decorated pencils for any and every holiday-most with a number of decor choices-to party decorations and goodie bag items. And since it has been on the web, it has attracted a growing number of corporate HR buyers looking for icebreakers for meetings or memorable gifts to hand out at training sessions.

OrientalTrading.com does a great job of navigating customers through the immense selection of goods, says Chris Merritt, a principal with retail consultants Kurt Salmon Associates in Atlanta. “The site is organized around what the customer is doing, not what the product is,” Merritt says. “It’s Halloween, wedding or luau; it’s not tabletop display or decorations. It really helps you think about other things you might need.”

With the number of products it carries, Oriental Trading has benefited from the web site in being able to offer its entire range all year round. Oriental Trading also believes the web has attracted new customers-those not in the teacher/parents-of-young-children loop who hear about the company via word of mouth. “People find us more easily on the web than they do through a catalog,” Fortson says.

OrientalTrading.com

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