November 29, 2006, 12:00 AM

The Internet Retailer Best of the Web Top 50 Retail Sites

The difference between most web stores and this year’s Internet Retailer Top 50 best e-commerce sites is like the difference between a 2003 Ford Taurus and a 2007 Cadillac DTS—both do what they’re supposed to do, but the latter do it more effectively and in a manner more appealing and exciting to customers.

The difference between most web stores and this year’s Internet Retailer Top 50 best e-commerce sites is like the difference between a 2003 Ford Taurus and a 2007 Cadillac DTS-both do what they’re supposed to do, but the latter do it more effectively and in a manner more appealing and exciting to customers. The best e-retailers of 2006 have leapt forward, soaring ahead of myriad other retail sites by adding the latest features and functions that, according to some industry observers, are starting to help differentiate successful e-commerce sites from middling ones.

One of the most interesting developments this year has been the sudden adoption by some of potentially vital online video technology. The addition of videos to an e-retailing site creates a whole new site landscape and customer experience. A big part of the momentum behind online video has been the unbelievable growth of 21-month-old YouTube, which was acquired in October by Google for $1.65 billion. That kind of big-ticket spend clearly shows the importance of video to Internet users.

On the e-retailing front, Netflix, for example, this year added movie trailers designed to entertain and entice subscribers in ways that boost site visits. Further, Netflix is using behind-the-scenes personalization techniques so that trailers that pop up for subscribers are ones Netflix has determined should be of most interest to each individual. The e-retailer has married online video with the increasingly significant art of personalization to create a distinctive site experience.

Other e-retailers showcasing online video in the Top 50 include: BuildABear.com, which displays videos of in-store parties; American Eagle, which launched “aerie Tuesdays on CW,” which displays clips of CW Network TV shows with characters wearing the company’s apparel; Buy.com, which has given customers the ability to record and display video reviews of products; and J&R; Electronics, which is rolling out hundreds of online videos of sales associates explaining the intricacies of products so the site can mimic customer service in stores.

When it comes to bringing an e-commerce site in line with a bricks-and-mortar store, Polo Ralph Lauren this summer went where no retailer has gone before. At its Madison Avenue store in New York, the retailer gave window shopping a whole new meaning. Touch-sensitive technology projected onto the store window a screen featuring tennis wear, enabling passers-by to shop from outside the store, 24/7, by tapping on the window glass. Talk about multi-channel integration.

Setting its sights on territory that’s not even on the map of the vast majority of e-retailers, Bodybuilding.com has begun showing bodybuilding competitions on its e-commerce site-not online video of events, but live webcasts. Internet TV.

Another giant leap forward that many of this year’s Top 50 e-retailers-including JCWhitney.com, Petco.com, J&R; Electronics, Moosejaw.com and BassProShops.com-are taking is the addition of customer reviews. This is a huge step in an industry where only 16% of e-retailers offer customer review functionality, according to the State of Retailing Online 2006 from Forrester Research Inc. and Shop.org. Regardless of the low adoption, research and consulting firm J.C. Williams Group Ltd. cites in a recent study that 60% of online shoppers have found customer product reviews helpful in making purchasing decisions.

In addition to adding their opinions on products, a small but growing number of online shoppers are digging the explosive new realm of social networking-and a number of this year’s Top 50 have jumped in the deep end of what truly are untested waters. Abebooks.com now features LibraryThing.com, a social network for bibliophiles. Netflix links subscribers together through its Netflix Friends network. And Buy.com offers shoppers the giant Yub.com social network. These are textbook examples of e-retailers making big investments and taking big risks.

Online video, live webcasts, social networking, customer reviews-these are the kinds of things that make this year’s Top 50 e-retailers shine. Last year the best e-retailers were fine-tuning and adding some features. This year they’re bounding forward in ways that show how some e-retailers are more imaginative and more focused on bringing customers back for more.

Profiles of the Top 50 were written by Mark Brohan, Paul Demery, Elizabeth Gardner, Peter Lucas, Linda Punch, Bill Siwicki and Mary Wagner.

Gomez performance testing methodology

Site performance is listed for every Top 50 e-retailer. Gomez Inc. measured the home page performance of the sites. Response time is the end-to-end time in seconds required to fully download a home page via a standard T1 line. Availability is the percentage of times a home page is successfully downloaded. And the consistency rating examines differences (variability) in the speed of web page delivery (response time) across multiple visits and the frequency a site is unavailable because of downtime (minutes out). Ratings fall into one of four categories: excellent, good, fair or poor. For more information on the methodology or reported performance results, contact Gomez Inc., Gomez.com.

AE.com
Abebooks.com
FamousFootwear.com
iTunes.com
Gap.com
Netflix.com
NikeStore.com
SimplyAudioBooks.com
Nordstrom.com
Polo.com
Spiegel.com
1-800-Flowers.com
Talbots.com
BlueNile.com
Zappos.com
BuildABear.com
Ice.com
Zazzle.com
BestBuy.com
Crutchfield.com
Dell.com
Chiasso.com
GameStop.com
Cooking.com
JR.com
LumberLiquidators.com
Palm.com
Williams-Sonoma Home
TigerDirect.com
YesAsia.com
AppliancePartsPros.com
Backcountry.com
FreshDirect.com
BassProShops.com
GreenMountainCoffee.com
Bodybuilding.com
OmahaSteaks.com
DoverSaddlery.com
DrsFosterSmith.com
JCWhitney.com
Amazon.com
Moosejaw.com
Buy.com
NFLShop.com
Costco.com
Petco.com
JCP.com
PetsUnited
SmartBargains.com
SportsmansGuide.com

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