November 30, 2007, 12:00 AM

Specialty/Non-Apparel For niche e-retailers, content is king

Content is everything—that is the definitive trend among specialty/non-apparel Internet retailers in the Hot 100.


Specialty/
Non-Apparel

AmericanStationery.com
Art.com
Bulbs.com
Diapers.com
DrsFosterSmith.com
Levenger.com
PetsUnited
PlumberSurplus.com
PowerEquipmentDirect.com
ShopPBS.com
Shutterfly.com
Step2.com

Content is everything--that is the definitive trend among specialty/non-apparel Internet retailers in the Hot 100. These merchants are bulking up their sites with assorted types of information on everything from pens to plumbing supplies to educate shoppers and help boost sales.

Levenger.com features an abundance of information and how-to tips on every page, from how to fill a fountain pen to the proper way to file. PetsUnited added blogs and customer profile pages to its popular Dog.com forum, and includes extensive information on all dog breeds.

Another pet supplies e-retailer, DrsFosterSmith.com, boasts more than 3,000 articles from veterinarians on staff. A redesign slated for after the holidays will present home page-based links to the articles. What`s more, the merchant soon will add video versions of the articles presented by the veterinary experts. And the videos will be turned into a syndicated TV show.

PowerEquipmentDirect.com features how-to manuals, product demonstration videos and advice from its experts. Similarly, PlumberSurplus.com has a learning center filled with videos and how-to guides. Live chat lets shoppers ask questions and discuss products. And if all that still does not do the trick, shoppers can enter their phone numbers in a special box on pages and get an immediate call-back from staff.

And Step2.com, a toy e-retailer, redesigned its site this year with content high on its list of changes. The new site displays a plethora of information on each product page: Images that put toys into size context in play scenes, including some video and 3-D demonstrations; information on shipping times and costs; views of complementary toys; and detailed assembly instructions.

On a different front, Diapers.com doesn`t need to post much information on its products--parents know what to do. But it initiated a referral program that enables shoppers to earn credits by bringing new customers onboard. When customers refer others to the site, new customers receive $5 off their first purchase by entering a referring customer`s unique code. And when new customers make purchases, the referring customer receives a $1 credit to his account.


Personal done properly
For a company that`s been around since 1919, American Stationery proves that an old dog can learn new tricks--and learn them well. AmericanStationery.com boasts top-flight site navigation, easy-to-use personalization, customer reviews and a Flash catalog.

Shoppers can search the site using categories such Hand-Bordered Stationery, Personalized Stationery, New Arrivals, Holiday Gifts & Cards and Personalized Party Wares. It also promotes on the home page monthly features, for example, holiday-related cards and party ware in November.

"AmericanStationery.com is very easy to navigate," says Roseanne Morrison, fashion director, Doneger Consulting. "I like the features by month, and the steps are really easy, especially when ordering something that`s personalized. They keep questioning you to the end to make sure you`ve done all the right steps. That is really what you want."

Customers can preview online about 85% of the personalized products, says Travis Steele, manager of web development. "We pride ourselves on customer satisfaction--we have a 100% guarantee," he says. "One of the ways to ensure that is that we allow a customer to actually see what the finished product is going to look like with our online personalization and preview. That was the biggest part of our site and that was what we really wanted to focus on."

When setting up the personalization process, American Stationery tries to address the questions its catalog operation receives when customers order over the phone, such as whether the print is flat or raised, Steele says. "We want people to get through from step one to the end as easily as possible without being confused," he says. "There are a lot of options per product. We broke it down into steps that flow smoothly."

Product pages feature a customer review section. Customers can rank an item using a five-envelope rating system as well as write a review of the product. The site also offers a Catalog Quick Shop, where customers can order online items in the paper catalog.

"I liked the Catalog Quick Shop," Morrison says. "Their segments are very clear and easy to use." Back to Top


Art to suit
Art.com accomplishes the near-impossible--bringing order to a site that offers hundreds of thousands of images, including posters, paintings and photos. The site also houses four brands: AllPosters.com, Art.com, Poster.de, and Artist Rising.

The Art.com home page allows visitors to search by art styles (such as fine art or decorative art), subject matter, artist or collections (such as canvas art versus tapestries). As an alternative, shoppers can click on boxes with images down the center of the page, representing categories such as best sellers, what`s new, framed art, decorating tips and photo art. Shoppers also can mouse over a color chart and click a color to search for artwork containing the chosen hue.

"They do an exceptional job of sorting their products because they cover a lot of territory," says Kim Painley, president of Kinetic Marketing Consultants.

Much of the artwork can be purchased with a customized frame. Shoppers select the style and color of frame and the color of the mat, and can crop the artwork to their taste. They then can view the customized piece before buying.

"They do a great job of not only selling the prints but also selling the upgrades," Painley says. "They make it so you can see the product framed on your wall."

Art.com also is continually adding to site content. Its most recent addition, Artist Rising, offers the work of lesser known artists.

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