November 30, 2005, 12:00 AM

Flowers/Gifts/Jewelry Taking a fresh approach to online sales

This year’s best of the web retail sites in the flowers, gifts and jewelry category entered the winner’s circle by taking a fresh approach to e-commerce and by not allowing their online marketing and merchandising plans to grow stale.

Internet Retailer

 

Internet Retailer Best of the Web 2006

1-800-Flowers.com
AmericanGreetings.com
BlueNile.com
GiftBaskets.com
Goldspeed.com
Illuminations.com
PersonalCreations.com
VermonTeddyBear.com

This year’s best of the web retail sites in the flowers, gifts and jewelry category entered the winner’s circle by taking a fresh approach to e-commerce and by not allowing their online marketing and merchandising plans to grow stale. For example, GiftBaskets.com now offers its entire site in Spanish and lists 18 categories of gift baskets to help customers find exactly what they are searching for. “The site offers a lot of selection and they make it easy for customers to find just what they want,” says Patti Freeman Evans, analyst with Jupiter Research.

In the online flowers and gifts space, customers naturally expect diversity, which is precisely the reason 1-800-Flowers.com spent 2005 focused on expanding content and pushing its branding even farther. The company devoted time and resources to developing new lines of merchandise, including popcorn, baked goods and wine, that complements its core floral business. “Our customers are from all over the U.S. and their tastes run the gamut,” says president Chris McCann.

In the jewelry space, pure play BlueNile.com paid close attention to detail by adding enhancements that allow customers to build their own five-stone diamond ring, three-stone diamond pendant and six-stone diamond earrings. “Blue Nile has created a very clean, easy to use site that doesn’t rely on glitz to sell their products,” says Curt Barry, president of F. Curtis Barry and Co.

Another online jeweler, Goldspeed.com, keeps customers coming back with an inventory of 20,000 items, including more than 1,000 versions of wedding rings, and by arranging to take orders as late as 6 p.m., have the merchandise inscribed at the factory and then shipped for next day delivery. “We try to put ourselves in the customer’s shoes,” says CEO Neil Kugelman.

On the web, especially in the highly competitive flowers and gifts space, customers return and give their repeat business to web retailers that do the best job at personalizing the shopping experience. PersonalCreations.com in 2006 is introducing a service that will enable shoppers to zoom in to see how their monogram or personalized message looks on products such as afghans before completing the purchase. Another online retailer, VermonTeddyBear.com, will make personalization a key part of its newest micro site, GiftBagBoutique.com, which carries designer handbags and accessories.

Along with personalization, best of the web retail sites are also combining merchandising and entertainment to attract customers. Illuminations.com, a merchandiser of candles and home decorating products, has adroitly deployed rich media applications that marry imagery and entertainment to drive sales. Illuminations recently used Flash applications over Halloween to show shoppers a variety of products and how they can be used to decorate the home or be packaged to create a unique gift. “It’s an entertaining way to show customers an assortment of different products using compelling imagery,” says Clay Lingo, vice president, direct-to-consumer sales.


1-800-Flowers.com
Staying fresh

1-800-Flowers.com realizes that, like the products it sells, its web site needs to stay fresh.

This is a company that practically invented the whole idea of selling flowers online. And while 1-800-Flowers consistently has been included in the ranks of top online retailers, it keeps trying new content and features to stay on top with its customers.

“This is one of the pioneers in Internet retailing, yet it continues to grow,” says Lauren Freedman, president of Chicago-based The E-Tailing Group Inc. “Its advanced search is excellent and it offers a lot of nice touches.”

Throughout much of 2005, 1-800-Flowers has focused on expanding content and pushing its branding even further. Next year, more changes will occur at the site itself, says Chris McCann, president.

1-800-Flowers has devoted a lot of time this year to expanding customer choices-direct-from-the-growers flowers vs. floral packages from florists or pricey designer sets vs. lower-cost assortments. “Our customers are from all over the U.S. and their tastes run the gamut,” says McCann.

Even within its well-known designer section, 1-800-Flowers has been increasing the number of well-known floral designers. Consumers can now choose from a designer who emphasizes minimalist modern pieces vs. a designer who works from a more classical perspective vs. a British designer with European flair.

As part of its content expansion, 1-800-Flowers is applying its experience with flowers to the sales of other gifts from companies it owns or is affiliated with. The company now sells popcorn, baked goods, wine and gifts online, offering, for instance, wine gift sets on its flower page. And in the near future, it expects to sell wine in the same basket as flowers, McCann says.

While this year’s emphasis has been on content, 1-800-Flowers has not completely forgotten about site features. One big change this year was to simplify the express checkout, moving the entire process to one page, even when customers are ordering multiple gifts that go to different addresses.

“About 70% of our customers choose the express checkout and because most of our business is gifts, we need to make it as simple as possible to send to different addresses,” McCann says.


AmericanGreetings.com
Welcome site

 

AmericanGreetings.com is a welcome destination to more than 10 million visitors who click on the site each month to purchase e-cards and view other related content for holidays and special occasions. Over time AG Interactive, the e-commerce and mobile content business arm of American Greetings Corp., has built AmericanGreetings.com and its affiliate sites, including BlueMountain.com, into an e-card and special occasion content business that generates more than $50 million in annual Internet sales.

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