November 12, 2007, 12:00 AM

With retailers’ blessings, dinnerware manufacturer Oneida expands online

Once retailers realized they could benefit from the manufacturer’s having a strong web site, Oneida redesigned its site and beefed up its e-commerce team. Sales and visits are up 50% this year.

At the end of 2005, the web site of dinnerware manufacturer Oneida Ltd. was maintained by one employee, and the site did not even sell all the company’s products. Now the redesigned site presents the entire catalog of products and the e-commerce team will be up to six by the end of the year.

The change came about in part because the retailers who account for most sales of Oneida products came to realize that a more robust web site would help their sales, not hurt them, says Amy Gebhardt, director of web marketing at Oneida, which is based in Oneida, NY.

“The retailers had become much less sensitive about our having the full assortment,” says Amy Gebhardt, director of web marketing at Oneida, which is based in Oneida, NY. “It makes more sense to consumers. If they don’t see it online they may think it’s not available.”

With that new perspective, Oneida engaged Philadelphia-based WebLinc to redesign its site and added web personnel. “Our upper management has been very supportive,” she says.

The new site features an interactive tool called Virtual Table Setting that lets a visitor see different combinations of dishes and silverware on a variety of table backgrounds. That’s especially useful for brides trying to decide which patterns to register, Gebhardt says.

Another new tool, Pattern Identifier, helps customers identify their silverware pattern, a big help to anyone who has inherited a treasured set of cutlery that’s missing pieces. Since few consumers know the name of the pattern, the tool provides menus that narrow the search by the name stamped on the back of the flatware, the type of metal and design (floral/plain/other), where it was purchased and finished.

To make the tool more useful, Oneida photographed all 650 of its styles, of which 150 are current, so that visitors can see pictures of forks, knives and spoons that fit the criteria they select. If a style is discontinued, the site suggests similar patterns and presents a link to a partner, Replacements.com, which may have the item.

Sales and visits to the site are both up 50% this year, Gebhardt says. And the visits are as important as the sales, because they help drive traffic to the stores that sell Oneida products. “How we manage our brands is as important, if not more important, than the commerce piece,” Gebhardt says. “If someone can find something on the Oneida site and go into a retail store and purchase it, great.”

Privately held Oneida does not report its e-commerce sales.

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