November 30, 2007, 12:00 AM

Housewares/Home Furnishings E-commerce sites as diverse as decorating...

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But the big changes have been on the back end: a new enterprise resource planning system, improved site search, enhanced analytics, experiments with multivariate testing on new features, and an increased product assortment (now 19,000 SKUs and growing). "This year we have consolidated and strengthened our assets in a significant way," Ronick says. And the site`s consistent profitability has provided him with a war chest to fund the improvements.

While the Stacks and Stacks site may be a bit standard, it`s quite shrewd, for example, when it comes to search engine optimization, says Craig Smith, founder of consulting firm Trinity Insight. "The URLs include key search terms as opposed to query parameters found in many e-commerce systems," he says. For example, the URL for a magazine stand/toilet paper holder includes the descriptive phrase "chrome-brushed-magazine-and-toilet-paper-stand." "This practice helps their ranking for those terms because URL content is vital within search algorithms."

Next up for Stacks and Stacks is a full site redesign, scheduled to debut during the first quarter of 2008. "The new platform will give us more functionality, like recently viewed products and side-by-side comparisons," Ronick says, "and more personalization, where we keep track of what people have purchased and do more targeted selling." Back to Top


Going green online
With global warming and other environmental issues making headlines, many retailers are going green with products and marketing. But VivaTerra.com goes one step further, with an entire web site devoted to living harmoniously with nature.

VivaTerra first came out with a catalog and e-commerce site in 2004. While its product line is small--it sells women`s fashions and home furnishings--the common thread is that every item is environmentally friendly as well as stylish. "We call it taking the granola out of green," says Robert Perkowitz, co-founder. "It`s making green sexy like Prius hybrid cars."

Perkowitz, former president of Cornerstone Brands, joined with four former merchandising and marketing executives from The Bombay Co. and Smith & Hawken to launch the e-commerce site.

"We wanted to start a business and identify a large market whose needs were unfulfilled," he says. "We wanted a differentiated brand and offering, positioned to be successful. We`re not really in a products business, we`re a lifestyle business in homes and women`s fashions."

The site`s visuals and page layout support the theme of green fashions, while a newsletter on how its eco-friendly styles contribute to conservation efforts addresses customers` concerns for the environment.

"They have a beautiful assortment that is well-merchandised, and is easy to navigate," says Nikki Baird, managing partner at retail consultants RSR Research.

However, VivaTerra.com doesn`t always play up the eco-friendly nature of the company in product descriptions, Baird says. "Was that birch tree decoration created through renewable resources or recycled materials or something?" she says.

To maintain a high profile as an environmentally friendly company as other retailers get into green marketing, VivaTerra will have to be more explicit in connecting the eco-friendly attribute to the product, Baird says.

But Perkowitz says that the web site`s recent redesign enables it to have eco-friendly details in each product description, and that product descriptions will reflect the environmental connection in the future. Back to Top


Something`s cooking
Food and holidays go together. And Williams-Sonoma.com specializes in providing serious cooks with the products and information they need, whatever the season.

In early November, for instance, a Thanksgiving page featured selections of Thanksgiving-related food, baking tools, cookware, tableware and home décor. There were checklists of kitchen tools and food, each with images and an easy way to add one item--or all of them--to a shopping cart.

"I can`t think of a better way to drive sales for a deluxe angled potato ricer at $29.95 a pop," says Steve Rowen, a partner at RSR Research.

"Seasonality`s a big deal for us," says Rich Siefert, vice president of the Williams-Sonoma Direct To Consumer unit responsible for catalog and web sales. "Cooking and entertaining are inherently seasonal and merchandising by the season is something our customers expect."

While San Francisco-based Williams-Sonoma has long promoted seasonal items online, Siefert says it does so even more heavily today on the site`s home page and recipe and gift sections. The web is especially important for certain holidays, such as Valentine`s Day, where the short shopping season makes the web a more effective way to promote seasonal items than catalogs or stores.

The gift section of the site also has been built out with suggestions for chocolate and cheese lovers, wine enthusiasts, entertainers, and business associates. And in the past year the site has enabled customers to both buy and redeem gift cards online; in the past, it only offered gift certificates.

Another section added to the site in the past year is WSKids, which, as the site explains, "offers young cooks the tools, techniques and inspiration to make their time in the kitchen enjoyable and educational." That`s aimed at families that cook together, Siefert says.

RSR`s Rowen, who admits he`s not much of a cook, was impressed nonetheless. "I typed in sweet potatoes and it brought up more ideas of what to do with sweet potatoes than I would have thought possible," he says. "And they all look really good." Back to Top

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