November 30, 2007, 12:00 AM

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

(Page 2 of 5)

"Artist Rising gives consumers access to a significantly larger selection of work direct from artists than they find almost anywhere else in the world," says Rob Giglio, chief marketing officer. "We offer many originals from the same artists, which further enhances the opportunity for our customers to discover art that they love."

The most popular pieces from the Artist Rising section are promoted to Art.com and AllPosters.com, where they appear alongside more famous works of art. "For our artists," Giglio says, "we provide a platform from which they can share and sell their work, giving them access to consumers that otherwise they wouldn`t have access to." Back to Top


Lighting the way
It is not the most attractive site on the web, but Bulbs.com makes the tiresome and challenging task of picking the right light bulb from thousands of choices relatively easy.

Bulbs.com offers bulbs and light fixtures for locations ranging from parking lots and airfields to home driveways and dining rooms, an inventory that can be mind-boggling to consumers. With that in mind, the retailer tries to make navigating the site as easy as possible, says Michael Connors, vice president of sales and marketing.

"It`s very, very important that with about 3,000 products users be able to identify what they need and then make a purchase without making a mistake," Connors says.

To that end, Bulbs.com lets users refine a search by product attribute, for example, wattage and voltage of a particular bulb. Bulbs.com also indexes by part numbers--including products not sold on the site. That enables users to find similar products from another brand.

"There`s a cross-referencing capability on the site," Connors says. "Maybe you`ve got a bulb that`s made by GE that you`ve just taken out of your fixture. While we may not have the GE product, we`ve indexed that GE product to the Philips product."

The site also offers education about bulbs and lighting, and allows shoppers to compare up to four items on a page. Bulbs.com makes it easy for returning visitors to re-order items by allowing them to save their purchase history on the site.

"The people who they`re selling to probably can find what they`re looking for because they already know what they want," says Kim Painley, president of Kinetic Marketing Consultants.

But consumers that don`t have a clear idea of what they`re looking for may have trouble finding the right product, Painley says.

"Everybody wants to use these compact fluorescent bulbs now but nobody understands the wattage," she says. "They don`t give you the equivalent incandescence. If I went here, I wouldn`t know which bulb to buy because I wouldn`t know which one was like a 100-watt incandescent bulb." Back to Top


Parent-friendly
Diapers.com operates on a very basic philosophy. Its customers are busy parents with hectic lives and little free time. The web site, therefore, must be simple to navigate and enable fast purchases.

Dressed in soft pastel colors, the site is uncluttered and straightforward. Unlike its customers, the design is the antithesis of busy, eschewing visual distractions.

"We`ve tried to make it a very easy, simple and fast experience," says Vinit Bharara, CEO of the Montclair, N.J.-based online vendor of diapers and other baby care products.

"The landing page has a very clean design," observes Gene Alvarez, vice president of Gartner Inc., a Stamford, Conn.-based technology research and consulting firm. "There`s not a lot there, and look how prominent the product search is."

The company not only has designed a web site that is facile to use, it also has tried to make it financially attractive to customers. It claims to offer competitive pricing for its products and also gives customers several ways to earn savings on future purchases. For instance, a referral program enables customers to earn cash credits by bringing new customers to the site.

Customers get a personalized code, similar to a password. When they refer others to the site, those newcomers earn $5 off their initial purchase by listing their sponsor`s code. And every time that newcomer makes a purchase, the original customer receives a dollar credit.

Bharara says customers can list their codes at doctors` offices, on community bulletin boards, or anywhere else they might be seen by potential customers. Sometimes customers get credits a year or two later, he says, thanks to strangers who have seen their codes listed somewhere.

Diapers.com further offers regular customers 5% credit every time they buy $75 worth of merchandise and provides free shipping--and delivery within 48 hours--for every purchase of at least $50.

An easy-to-remember 800 phone number--1-800-DIAPERS--is listed prominently on the home page. "They make it as easy as possible, because if they don`t, customers will go to the store," Alvarez says. "Consumers with children have a never-wait mindset." Back to Top


Trading on `vet cred`

"Vet cred" is what sets Drs. Foster and Smith apart from myriad web sites and catalogs catering to pet owners. Founded by a pair of practicing veterinarians from northern Wisconsin in 1983, a 16-page informational flyer has grown to the largest pet-supply operation on the Internet.

The company, still based in Rhinelander, Wis., works hard to maintain its stature as an authority. Many of the staff are practicing vets. The main retail site has helpful articles in each pet category--more than 3,000 at last count. Sister site PetEducation.com does virtually no selling, and is so comprehensive that college and university web sites cite it as a reference.

At the main commerce site, superb top-of-page tab navigation helps customers find their way through thousands of products for all kinds of animals. A redesign eliminated a layer of navigation in the interest of speedy service, says Gordon Magee, Internet marketing and analysis manager. A request for dog crates, for example, elicits the full product selection rather than a list of subcategories; at the right, customers can narrow or sort results by price, brand and other criteria.

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