November 30, 2004, 12:00 AM

Internet Retailer Best of the Web The Top 50 Retailing Sites

It`s been 10 years since the online retailing revolution got underway and the shift to online shopping shows no signs of abating. A look at the retailers who occupy this year`s Internet Retailer Best of the Web Top 50 shows why.

It`s been 10 years since the online retailing revolution got underway and the shift to online shopping shows no signs of abating. Witness the 24% increase in online shopping in the first 10 months of this year--on top of 25% growth in online sales last year and similar growth in prior years.

A look at the retailers who occupy this year`s Internet Retailer Best of the Web Top 50 shows why. Retailers are doing all they can not only to improve the online shopping experience and but also to bring to online shopping features and benefits that just aren`t possible in a store or a catalog. One prime example: Consumers who want to see how various colors of bed linens and wall paint go together can visit Sears.com or Sears` subsidiary LandsEnd.com and play around with a virtual room. They can even put pets on the bed in the Sears.com room.

Another great example: Consumers who want custom products have easy-to-use options at lots of sites where, thanks to technology and consumer-friendly interfaces, shoppers can quickly and accurately order what they want--and get it at a good price. A consumer with a sense of humor who wants a teddy bear dressed up as a skunk or, maybe a teddy bear dressed in papal garb, can get it at VermontTeddyBear.com. Or a mom who wants to see how her child`s name will look on the back of a chair can go to PotteryBarnKids.com and play with a slick tool that quickly pops up an image of a chair with the chosen name on it.

But beyond the gee-whiz factor of color changing or instant visualization of a personalized product, web sites are providing information that consumers can`t easily get in other channels. For instance, Bombaycompany.com has stocked its site with assembly instructions to help consumers order an item with confidence that they can put it together once it arrives. And AdvanceAutoParts.com has loaded its site with information about car repairs including such seemingly esoteric areas as Car Parts Theory with subcategories Troubleshooting by Sound, Troubleshooting by Smell, Troubleshooting by Sight and so on.

In today`s world, excellence on the web also translates into creating a superior multi-channel shopping experience and many of the Best of the Web retailers excel in that area as well. Circuit City Stores Inc., Recreational Equipment Inc. and Sears, Roebuck and Co., to name only three, have led the way in encouraging customers to order online and pick up in the store. Most of the Top 50 sites with catalog bases have a catalog-quick-order function. And some have figured out how to use the web to sell in stores. AuntiesBeads.com, for instance, which started in a garage only four years ago, analyzes data from web sales to determine where to open stores. It now has three--one in its home city of Houston, one in Dallas and one in Kansas City, Kan. So far, the stores have brought in about six times the amount of web sales in the communities where they operate, though there`s no sign that the stores are taking away from online sales, says CEO Ron Henderson.

Growing percentage

The excellence of these sites--and the example they provide for the rest of the industry--bode well for the future of online retailing and will help fulfill Forrester Research`s projections of where online retailing is heading. From about 5% today, Forrester predicts that online sales will account for 13% of all general merchandise sales in 2010. And some categories will be far beyond that. Some interesting examples: Small appliances, 29%, books 28%, gifts, 23%, consumer electronics, 22%.

These are only a few of the examples of online retailers who make up the sixth Internet Retailer Best of the Web--The Top 50 Retailing Sites. All excel in some way, most in many ways. The Top 50 sites represent a range of retailers from big, well-known brands to small, niche sites and manufacturers` sites. It includes online pure-plays, retail chains and catalogers.

The editors base their selections on consultations with members of Internet Retailer`s Editorial Board of Advisers and with industry consultants and analysts, nominations from readers and the editors` own experience in dealing with sites, both professionally and personally, throughout the year. The editors extend their thanks to all who assisted in this year`s selection process.

We are pleased to present this year`s Internet Retailer`s Best of the Web--The Top 50 Web Sites.

The following profiles were written by Kurt Peters, Mary Wagner, Paul Demery, Mark Brohan, Lauri Giesen and Peter Lucas.

Data on the following pages marked with * are courtesy of comScore Networks Inc. based on a cross-section of 1.5 million Internet users who have given comScore permission to monitor their online activity.

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