May 7, 2008, 12:00 AM

New features generate more sales at FootSmart.com

Benchmark Brands is reporting sharply higher web sales for the first quarter after implementing a number of new web site features such as customer reviews and alternative payments.

Bill Briggs

Senior Editor

Benchmark Brands Inc. is reporting sharply higher web sales for the first quarter after implementing more advanced web site features such as alternative payments and customer reviews.

The company, which owns and operates FootSmart.com and is No. 187 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, has added alternative payment methods, including PayPal, Google Checkout and Bill Me Later. As a result of giving customers more options to complete a purchase, alternative payments now account for about 12% of all transactions, says Benchmark CEO Alan Beychok.

Benchmark, which increased web sales by 46% in the first quarter to about $21 million from $14.4 million in the prior year, also is using new behavioral targeting and messaging software from Dotomi Inc. to do a better job of tracking customer behavior and targeting shoppers once they arrive at FootSmart.com. The software helps Benchmark build detailed customer profiles by compiling data from each shopper’s past transaction history, personal information and other comparative demographic information. Benchmark then uses the customer profiles to engage shoppers with a live message exchange once they are shopping online.

“If we know more about who is coming to the site, we can do a better job of making specific product recommendations to them,” Beychok says. “By targeting customer behavior we can improve customer acquisition and retention.”

Benchmark also is adding more web site features. In March the company began posting customer reviews using technology from Bazaarvoice Inc. and in the first month added about 1,000 reviews, Beychok says. The next project, which is slated for June, is working with site search application developer Celebros to refine FootSmart.com’s search criteria. Specifically, the company is updating its site taxonomy and product database and adding more guided navigation. “When the new search feature is up and running, shoppers can ask more detailed questions about the types of foot arches they want, how they will use the arch and the desired size,” Beychok says. “We are adding more specific criteria.”

Benchmark grew its web sales by 36% from $38 million to $51.6 million in 2007 by adding new features and functions at a steady rate, Beychok says.

By rolling out even more functionality in 2008, FootSmart.com will continue to grow, despite a soft economy that’s affecting store and catalog sales at other apparel and accessories retailers, Beychok says. “We’re pretty aggressive with always redeveloping our web site. By focusing on improving the customer experience and sticking with our niche we will grow even faster this year.”

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