November 30, 2007, 12:00 AM

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

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A further redesign, slated to debut after Christmas, spotlights the educational articles with an expanded "below the fold" section. "It`s certainly a marketing strategy because the articles will refer to products, but it also fits with our ethos of educating customers," Magee says. "And it helps people want to stay on the site longer." The company is considering developing communities for other pets similar to its Ferret Forum, which it acquired along with The Ferret Store.

"This site is the BabyCenter of the pet world, with a lot of content that drives awareness of the brand," says Sucharita Mulpuru, principal analyst with Forrester Research. "It becomes a natural place for someone to go during the research process."

The redesign will also add Flash animation, and, eventually, video. The video supply should be plentiful: the company has recently agreed to produce a syndicated television show featuring the doctors and other experts, along with celebrities and their animals. It will debut in February. Back to Top


Content is everything
Levenger Co. sells its own brand of products for people who read and write: fountain pens and note cards, briefcases and bookcases. Its web site stands out by the depth of information it provides, including how-to tips on every page, from how to fill a fountain pen to the proper way to file.

"Content is everything," says Lynnette Montgomery, vice president of e-commerce at Levenger, based in Delray Beach, Fla. "We want to show our prospects and customers that we are an authority in pens, organizers, paper."

Montgomery also wants visitors to spend a lot of time on the site, drilling down into the product offerings and finding answers to their questions. To that end, the site has been enhanced in the past year with more and larger photos, color swatches, and zoom.

Product reviews were added in September and customers responded enthusiastically. "We did an e-mail soliciting customers to write reviews on everything they have bought and it generated 2,100 reviews," Montgomery says. And that was in just three days.

Another feature added this fall allows customers to customize their 3x5 note cards, selecting card style, color and stock, and adding text, such as their name, in a variety of fonts and colors. The conversion rate on custom cards is 15%, versus 6.5% for the site as a whole, Montgomery says. "That has been an amazing success," she says. "Our customers are so happy."

Overall, she says, time spent on the site is up nearly 20% this year, and the conversion rate is up 18%.

Levenger.com gets high marks for ease of navigation, an uncluttered look and the prominent display of a 100% satisfaction guarantee, says Chris Vicente, senior retail practice manager at consulting firm BearingPoint. He adds that the gift guide should be more prominent during the holiday season.

As for the wealth of information offered on the site, Vicente says, "That might be overwhelming to the casual shopper. But the target market is people who want detail about the products, and this is a good site for them." Back to Top


To each its own
By operating a menagerie of sites, PetsUnited, Hazelton, Pa., focuses more intensely than other large web pet supplies retailers, and the strategy has paid off in customer loyalty and growth. Rather than a generic home page with tabs for different animals, PetsUnited operates Dog.com, Horse.com, Ferret.com, Bird.com and Fish.com and has made each one a devotee destination. (The URL Cat.com was not available, so cats get a tab on Dog.com.)

"We call our sites `big hairy sites,`" chief operating officer Greg Patterson says. "They`re not just niche sites that you can do with a cookie-cutter. We have large product selections, community features and information centers. It`s a lot of work to really have them done right."

Like many of his customers, Patterson is the "father" of animal companions--three dogs--and knows how important it is to be able to talk dogs, swap pictures and interact with other dog owners. A lively dog forum was joined in September by blogs and profile pages, which already are pulling 5,000 to 7,000 visitors a day. "We feel if we can give customers a spot to talk about their dogs, we`ll be front of mind for new dog stuff," Patterson says. "But it`s a soft sell." Similar features are due to roll out soon at Horse.com and Ferret.com.

The shopping experience itself is complete but not cluttered on all the PetsUnited sites, and a full array of products is joined by extensive information on all breeds. And a pet adoption search tool enables customers to find pets in their area that need homes.

George Whalin, president and CEO of Retail Management Consultants, notes the company`s efforts to promote its print catalogs on all the sites. "Consumers who buy from more than one channel nearly always spend more than those who only shop online or in a store," he says. Customers are encouraged to request a print catalog and use the web site`s catalog quick-order feature. And Dog.com`s catalog is available on the site in a rich-media format that ties in with product pages. Back to Top


The knowledge pipeline
PlumberSurplus.com takes the view that visitors to its site don`t always know precisely what they want. They know how to describe the problem they have or the home improvement project they`re considering. But they don`t necessarily know how to go about resolving the problem or initiating the project.

The web site is designed to give them the tools they need.

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