November 21, 2008, 12:00 AM

The Internet Retailer Hot 100 Retail Web Sites

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At bookseller Chapter.Indigo.ca customers review books, and other visitors can filter reviews based on the reviewer’s own reading list, selecting reviewers with similar tastes. Avon.com highlights reviews from 500 customers whose commentaries the retailer considers particularly helpful. Ritz Interactive, which operates RitzCamera.com and other e-commerce sites, notes the percentage of reviews that come from different types of users, such as professional photographers versus beginners.

Pet supplies retailer Muttropolis.com has its own social network where consumers can share photos and videos of their pets, and at Gardeners.com consumers post photos of their gardens. The Bragging Board at sporting goods retailer GanderMtn.com lets consumers illustrate with photos tales of their hunting and fishing exploits.

Popcuts.com introduces new music and rewards consumers who are early buyers of tunes that turn into hits. The site, developed by three University of California at Berkeley graduate students, brings to the Internet the thrill young people get when they’re the first to discover a hot new band-only now they’re introducing their find to the world.

Shoppers also like to get their friends’ opinions before making a purchase, and more e-commerce sites offer that option. At WetSeal.com a consumer can craft an outfit and share it with friends. EyeBuyDirect makes it even more personal: A consumer can upload her photo, try on various eyeglass frames in a virtual community called the Wall of Frame, and get feedback from other community members.

Fun is a good way to draw consumers to an e-commerce site, as AmericanApparel.net demonstrated with its second annual Halloween costume contest, and Bluefly.com with its pre-election Fashion Decision 2008 polls on such pressing issues as whether Sarah Palin or Joe Biden wore the hipper sunglasses.

At the same time, much of the innovation is taking place beyond the retailer’s own web site, as e-retailers go where consumers are. For tens of millions of shoppers that means online social networks. Apparel retailer Undergear.com invested this year in creating its own pages on Facebook and MySpace, a gallery on photo-sharing site Flickr, and a channel on YouTube. Discounter Buy.com and women’s surfing apparel retailer Roxy.com got big responses from videos they posted on YouTube.

Beyond the site

Going beyond the web site also means connecting with consumers through other devices, notably the mobile phone. Amazon.com and QVC.com are among the leaders in enabling customers to make purchases through text messages from their mobile phones. Recognizing that text messaging has become a primary means of communication among the young, American Eagle Outfitters lets site visitors text friends encouraging them to check out products on the apparel site.

Another way retailers are reaching out beyond their web sites is through desktop widgets, small single-purpose applications that consumers can place on their own computers. Meijer, the Midwestern grocery and general merchandise chain, created the Meijer Mealbox widget that lets shoppers create shopping lists-and then automatically receive coupons for items on their list.

This year saw some initial steps toward making the television remote control a new shopping device.

DVD rental specialist Netflix signed deals with several manufacturers to create devices that will allow consumers to rent movies from Netflix.com for viewing on their TV sets. Among the suppliers tying up with Netflix is digital video recorder manufacturer TiVo, which is also part of an even more ambitious trial with Amazon. In the test, consumers can make purchases through Amazon of products that appear in TV shows or movies. While initially viewers have to wait until the end of the show to make the purchase, the plan is for a consumer eventually to be able to pause the show, make the purchase at Amazon, and then resume viewing.

While many of these advances involve high technology, several of the online retailers featured in this year’s Hot 100 are making better use of their human capital to forge closer bonds with customers.

The personal touch

For instance, electronics retailer Crutchfield.com has created a Personal Advisors service that lets customers sign up for access to an individual customer service agent. Musical instruments retailer SamAsh.com encourages the professional musicians that staff its call centers to write articles for the site and include their e-mail addresses so customers can follow up directly with the authors.

Skis.com features 1,000 videos of employees trying out new skis and giving their reviews-and makes those reviews available to customers in two of its bricks-and-mortar stores. Borders encourages store employees to review books they like and highlights on Borders.com those associates deemed experts in a field.

Ultimately, every retail sale involves one consumer deciding to make a purchase from one retailer. The online retailers highlighted in this year’s Hot 100 offer many lessons on how to inspire and inform shoppers so that they will want to click the Buy button, and also how retailers can reach out beyond the bounds of e-commerce sites to introduce themselves to consumers, offer convenient ways to shop and deepen customer loyalty.

don@verticalwebmedia.com

Gomez performance testing methodology

Measurements were taken once per hour from 10 data center locations with standard 10 Mbps connections to the Internet. Measurements were calculated 24 hours a day for one week in early November. The Hot 100 listings display the following metrics:

Response time Measured in seconds, the response time is the total end-to-end time required to fully download a home page and its entire image, Flash, style sheets, JavaScript and other HTML components. All successful measurements are averaged to generate the final result.

Availability Availability is the percentage of times a home page is successfully downloaded. All successful measurements are divided into the total measurements to calculate availability.

Consistency rating Based on standard deviation of the test response time and the test availability, the consistency rating is a quality ranking labeled excellent, good, fair or poor. An initial consistency score is generated as the product of the response time standard deviation and availability.

Click Here for the Internet Retailer Guide to Vendors of the Hot 100 Retail Web Sites

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