April 30, 2007, 12:00 AM

Free, apt web tools spark more customer activity at Abt

Abt Electronics, with more than 10,000 SKUs available through its web site on consumer electronics, home appliances and accessories, is one of a growing number of merchants who`ve added some of online retailing`s newest functions to its web site—for free.

With more than 10,000 SKUs on consumer electronics, home appliances and accessories site AbtElectronics.com, “it can be daunting for customers to choose among all of our products,” says vice president Jon Abt. To make the task easier, Abt Electronics Inc. is one of a growing number of web retailers who’ve added some of online merchandising’s newest functionalities to its web site-for free.

Interactive online product tours of some technologically complex items such as digital cameras are created and syndicated free to AbtElectronics.com and other retail web sites from vendors WebCollage Inc. and SellPoint at the product manufacturer’s cost. Abt says the online product demonstrations boost the add-to-cart ratio by about 6% among shoppers who engage the tours over shoppers who don’t. And beyond an increase in conversions, Abt says the product tours also have value as a brand differentiator.

“We try to emulate on our web site what we do in our store, where we are hands-on in explaining to customers how a product works,” he says. “We want them to understand it when they leave the store and we want them to be happy and come back. We think these tours really help someone understand what they are purchasing and how the technology is used.”

The Nav site-and-navigation tool from Guidester Inc. is helping support projected double-digit growth in online sales as well as in Abt’s single Chicago-area store, where customers frequently walk in with printouts of what they’ve researched on Abt’s web site. The tool uses Ajax, or asynchronous JavaScript and XML, technology that enables new content to appear instantly on a web page without requiring online shoppers to wait as pages reload.

Sharper focus
That makes it easier for shoppers to quickly display groups of products that meet their particular requirements. A search for “digital cameras” on the Abt Electronics home page, for example, using the site’s basic site search function produces a list mostly of camera accessory items.

But by clicking the “digital cameras” link in the home page navigation bar, a shopper activates the Guidester tool and can search for particular cameras based on features clicked in several multiple-choice windows. Each click of a multiple-choice option, such as “Intermediate User,” “No more than $400,” “Auto focus” or “Nikon,” instantly changes the selection of cameras displayed.

Guidester, which also offers a non-Ajax version of its search-and-navigation tool, provides its tools free of charge to retailers. It earns its revenue, which it shares with retailer clients, by selling pay-per-click advertising to the manufacturers whose products appear in Guidester site-search results. Sponsored listings, identified as “featured matches,” appear atop search results and are sorted by a combination of relevancy and pay-per-click price.

“We don’t have robust basic site search capabilities, so Guidester is empowering us to help shoppers find particular products,” Abt says. “We’re getting great feedback from customers who say it’s very helpful.”

mary@verticalwebmedia.com

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