November 30, 2007, 12:00 AM

Mass Merchants/Department Stores Helping shoppers through a massive...

Mass merchants live up to their name: They are massive. Those named to the Hot 100 have been very busy trying to ease the shopping process and aid customers in finding and choosing what they need from vast assortments of products.


Mass Merchants/
Department Stores

Amazon.com
Buy.com
Costco.com
JCPenney.com
Macys.com
NetShops.com
Overstock.com
Shop.com
ShopNBC.com
Walmart.com

Mass merchants live up to their name: They are massive. The mass merchant and department store e-retailers named to the Hot 100 have been very busy trying to ease the shopping process and give customers helpful information to aid them in finding and choosing what they need from vast assortments of products.

Customer reviews are becoming an indispensable tool to give shoppers a helping hand. Walmart.com, for example, added customer reviews in July. The web retailer`s customers have generated more than 80,000 reviews since the summer; today customers are adding about 1,000 reviews daily. The result: Reviews of highly rated products have helped lift conversion.

Amazon.com this year added an extraordinary feature to its longstanding customer reviews: online video. Customers now can upload videos with their reviews, making the critiques among the most robust in the industry. ShopNBC.com also is working with online video: More than 30% of items now have video product demonstrations.

To help customers wade through an enormous selection, Costco.com this year enhanced the front end of its e-commerce platform to add more options and easier navigation, a move common among e-retailers in this category.

Overstock.com used web analytics, for instance, to find the best way to attract shoppers and boost sales, consequently modifying page design. The modifications produced an increase in products added to shopping carts. Moving product information higher on pages lifted the number of products added to carts by 5%. And Macys.com enhanced a product comparison feature that enables shoppers to weigh items based on a wide range of product attributes, a move that improved conversion.

NetShops.com altered its home page this year with the intent to make it easier for shoppers to drill down through a huge assortment of stores and items. It also introduced technology that makes it stand out in the crowd: Shop Together. This feature enables two shoppers to initiate a session on the site that allows them to view the same products at the same time, just as they would if they were walking together down aisles in a store.


Still the one
If it`s impossible to attempt any roundup of the web`s best retailers without featuring Amazon.com--and it is--it`s no surprise: Seattle-based Amazon.com defined the genre, and it ranks highest in online sales. But sales rank isn`t why Amazon.com is a leader--sales rank is a by-product of the innovation and the operational excellence that sets it apart, as this year again shows.

The features, functionality, products and marketing programs that bring customers in and bond them to the site keep rolling out. This year, a few of those additions included video product reviews, which let customers upload their own video to share their opinions about a product; and High-Def 101, an on-site center that corrals the e-retailer`s high-definition home entertainment products along with educational content to help with purchase decisions.

Amazon.com has added Amazon Prime, which gives customers free two-day shipping on all purchases for $79 a year. It has moved into new categories, such as the downloadable digital music store launched on Amazon.com, and the destination site for shoes, Endless.com. And it has strengthened its existing presence in other categories; for instance, testing an expansion into perishable groceries in the Seattle market.

Throughout Amazon.com`s recent build-outs runs a strategic common thread: they`ve been more about deepening the relationship with customers than about adding the latest rich Internet applications to wow them. That counters the current trend toward such technology at many e-retailers, notes Gene Alvarez, vice president of retail e-commerce at research and consulting firm Gartner Inc.

"Amazon`s using an interaction-based CRM approach to strengthening its bond with customers. It`s using its product recommendations and watching your buying history as well as expanding the products it offers as a way to build that strong relationship and get you to come back--even though it may not have the flashy rich Internet application look and feel. It has not adopted Web 2.0 yet as have some others, but with its deep fan base, it can get away with it." Back to Top


Buy it wherever
Buy.com, a general merchandise, online-only retailer, has built a reputation for being on the leading edge in areas such as social networking and Internet TV.

In August, for example, Buy.com launched a new application--Garage Sale--on Facebook.com using e-commerce technology Buy.com acquired earlier this year. The application lets Facebook members post and sell items directly on their profile pages. The service charges a flat 5% commission for items sold, with buyers using a credit card to pay for items and sellers receiving the funds through Pay Pal or a check cut by Buy.com.

Buy.com sees the growth opportunity with Garage Sale in the fact that the application enables users to transition their social networking personal pages, which already garner high traffic, beyond information-sharing. "The purpose of Garage Sale is to offer consumers a means of conveniently posting and selling items on their profile pages," Buy.com CEO Neel Grover said when the new application launched. "This is a completely untapped area in e-commerce. The opportunities are virtually endless."

Garage Sale is not the first time Buy.com has used social networking. Last year, it launched BuyTV through distribution partners including iTunes and YouTube. The program offers a variety of content, combining e-commerce education with entertainment.

In October, Buy.com began showing BuyTV on broadcast television. The weekly half-hour series program is available to more than 5.6 million households in Southern California.

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