November 21, 2008, 12:00 AM

Mass Merchants/Department Stores

The eight retailers highlighted in this section have figured out innovative ways to reach a mass audience and make consumers comfortable


Mass Merchants/
Department Stores
Amazon.com
Buy.com
ElderLuxe.com
Meijer.com
Overstock.com
QVC.com
SkyMall.com
Walmart.com

Retailers that sell a wide array of products can sell to a wide range of consumers. The eight retailers highlighted in this section have figured out innovative ways to reach a mass audience and make consumers comfortable making a purchase.

Everyone likes to laugh, and Buy.com has recruited a funny guy and familiar face, Howie Mandel of TV game show “Deal or no Deal,” to plug the site in TV commercials. Posted on YouTube, those improvisational ads have been viewed 12 million times, giving the online-only retailer even wider exposure.

Meijer, a Midwestern grocery and general merchandise chain that’s only been selling online for a year, has taken its site to customers’ computer desktops, offering a widget called the Meijer Mealbox that creates shopping lists and automatically populates them with discount coupons.

Most every consumer carries a mobile phone, and a growing number of those phones have computer-like power, boosting mobile commerce. Top online retailer Amazon.com and television shopping merchant QVC are among the m-commerce pioneers, letting consumers make purchases via text message.

Many of these sites are offering consumers more information, much of it coming from customers themselves. For instance, Walmart.com, the e-commerce site of retail giant Wal-Mart Stores, has introduced a feature called Connect And Share that includes blogs, customer reviews, and a question-and-answer section. SkyMall.com, the retail site of the airline catalog retailer, allows vendors and employees to respond to customer reviews, after revealing their affiliation.

ElderLuxe.com is focused on answering detailed questions its affluent, older customers have about its products. They need to know, for example, how big a walker is when it folds up and whether it will fit in the trunk of their car, and how heavy it is so they can determine whether they can lift it.

Online-only discount retailer Overstock.com revamped its home page to group products into 11 categories, each with several sub-categories visible to shoppers. This enables one-click access to many products. “We think the distinction between browsing and search is overdrawn,” says CEO Patrick Byrne, “and that it’s possible to synthesize the two into guided navigation.” Back to top


Rolling on
Shrugging off the recession, Amazon.com Inc. is using its financial success to deepen its web selection and features while staking out a leadership position in selling to consumers through mobile phones, television and an electronic book reader.

Amazon is moving from a position of strength. In the third quarter, when comScore Inc. estimates e-commerce sales grew 6%, Amazon’s sales grew 31% to nearly $4.3 billion. Net income rose 48% to $118 million.

The top e-retailer has plowed its profits into acquisitions that broaden its product selection, purchasing in the past year audio book retailer Audible.com, knitting supplies specialist Fabrics.com and AbeBooks, an online retailer of used, rare and out-of-print books. Amazon also began selling music and video downloads via its web site, and added office supplies and motorcycle parts stores.

Meanwhile, Amazon created a site called windowshop.com where visitors can browse through the current week’s best sellers in several categories, and added a currency converter so international shoppers can see prices in their own currencies.

In addition, Amazon, which is famous for recommending products to consumers based on their buying history, increasingly promotes installation services and customer support, and even points consumers sometimes to competing web sites to view related items, notes Ayat Shukairy, a managing partner with Invesp Consulting, which specializes in optimizing e-commerce sites. That bolsters its credibility, she says.

“With each new offer, Amazon redefines successful e-commerce from merely selling products to becoming a shopping portal and a place where customers will come first before they make a decision to buy products online or offline,” Shukairy says.

Equally noteworthy are Amazon’s moves into new channels. The retailer broke new ground in mobile commerce when it introduced last spring its TextBuyIt program that allows consumers to make purchases via mobile phone text messages. It extended a program with TiVo, the maker of digital video recorders, that ultimately will enable consumers to buy products with their TV remote controls. And Amazon is heavily promoting its own Kindle electronic book reader, hoping that will create a new market for digital book downloads. Back to top


It’s always a deal
Buy.com’s current marketing campaign, which has finally given it a recognizable brand identity, is a series of spots in which Howie Mandel, host of TV show “Deal or No Deal?,” uses his skewed sense of humor and improvisational skills to push the web-only retailer’s low prices and vast selection. Mandel bursts into people’s homes and offices, shows them how to shop at Buy.com, and waits with them until the merchandise arrives and everyone cheers.

The spots have racked up 12 million YouTube views in addition to the TV exposure, and Jeff Wisot, Buy.com vice president of marketing, no longer has to explain what Buy.com is when he meets people at parties. As for Mandel, Wisot says, “He would tell people to buy from us even before we hired him.”

Meanwhile, back in Aliso Viejo, Calif., the Buy.com team has loaded up features to compete with Amazon.com, the category gorilla among online mass merchants. Buy.com’s Marketplace program, one key to its vast selection, allows other merchants to sell through its site. The program is adding 20 new sellers a week and has more than 1,000 already in place. “We are pretty strict and we monitor them to make sure fulfillment is up to our expectations and customers are happy,” says Wisot.

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