January 4, 2006, 12:00 AM

Striking up the Broadband

(Page 4 of 4)

“We’ll take it up a notch every year,” adds Fahle. “We want people to think, What will Borders do this year?”

paul@verticalwebmedia.com

Fun on the web

The number of online retailers capitalizing on broadband with rich, new applications grows every day. Here’s a sampling:

-- FlyPenTop.com, a unit of LeapFrog Enterprises Inc., lets shoppers try out its electronic sketching pen by using their computer mouse to draw images on its web site.

-- PlayStorm Far East Ltd.’s Playstormtoys.com uses rich media technology from Virtual Iris to let shoppers simultaneously rotate and zoom images of its toys.

-- Bass Pro Shops is using rich media from Scene7 to dynamically size images to view minute details of more than 11,000 products on BassPro.com.

-- Chrysler.com and many eBay sellers are using Avatar animated talking figures from Oddcast Inc. to explain complicated product details.

-- Borsheims.com is offering a Design Your Ring feature, built with rich media from RichFX Inc., that lets shoppers start with either a ring band, setting or stone, then match them with other pieces. With only one store in Omaha, Neb., in addition to its catalog and web site, Borsheims sees the online ring designer as an important tool for differentiating from more established online jewelry retailers and attracting a wider audience, especially among young couples looking for engagement and wedding rings.

-- Musicnotes Inc. has offered online digital sheet music for several years, including a sampling tool that lets shoppers follow along as it points to all the notes in a moving display coordinated with sound of the actual music. Although its sampling tool was designed in-house as a “skinny file” so it could be used by customers on dial-up Internet access, “It took some patience on dial-up to navigate through our tens of thousands of products,” says CEO Kathleen Marsh. “Broadband has made it fast and fun.”

These boots were made for configuring

To make sure no one would mistake it for a provider of old-fashioned, clunky work boots, The Timberland Co. launched in 2004 an online configurator to let shoppers customize the popular men’s six-inch leather boot with special treatments like different colored laces and imprinted initials.

The move brought mixed results. Customer response was so strong that demand quickly amassed for the configurator to handle more sizes and styles, especially for women and children. But the configurator, built by an outside design firm for a new Timberland e-commerce platform hosted by GSI Commerce Inc., was too difficult to expand. “Then we also realized the consumer experience was too clunky, it took too long to see the results,” says Troy Brown, Timberland’s senior director of e-commerce.

So in 2005 Timberland launched a new configurator built on the latest version of Macromedia Flash and designed by Fluid Inc. for the same GSI platform. Brown says he couldn’t be happier. Not only does the new configurator handle seven boot styles, but six of them are routinely among Timberland.com’s top 10 sellers. Conversion rates for visits to the configurator have surged, even though Timberland charges about $175 for customized boots, a $30 premium, Brown says.

Launched in August, the configurator earned a complete return on investment before Christmas. “We’re getting a huge return on this, and it has gone through the roof in terms of sales,” Brown says, adding that Timberland plans to apply the configurator to several more products, including backpacks.

Brown attributes the configurator’s success partly to the fact that 90-95% of Timberland’s customers use broadband web access and can benefit from optimal speed in designing products.

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