November 20, 2009, 12:00 AM

Why the Hot 100 matter

By drawing out online innovation, we are exposing the industry to many of the practices that will define future success.

Every year we rank the Hot 100 e-retailing web sites, recognizing innovation in online retailing. The aim is to highlight retailers who move the online retailing business to a new level of service, features, functions and online experience. This year is no different.

But more than most years, recognizing the Hot 100 this year is crucial to the industry: By drawing out online innovation, we are exposing the industry to many of the practices that will define future success. And keeping up with market-leading practices is more crucial than ever at a time when a deep recession seems to have created more cautious and discerning consumers, even as we move into recovery. The new consumer attitude will define a new market in which retailers will compete more aggressively than before for consumer dollars. Today, an e-retailer must give consumers a deliberate reason to come to a site, to stay and to buy. The Hot 100 illustrates interesting and new ways that online retailers have achieved those objectives.

The path to success for some retailers is paved with videos. One of the fastest moving trends of the past year has been growth in online video viewing. Consumers spend an average of 8.5 hours viewing 135 videos each month, double from a year ago. Several Hot 100 sites have added video with great success in the past year, including OnlineShoes.com, which hosts hundreds of videos. 5% of shoppers click from product to video; they convert to buyers 45% more often than other shoppers.

Shoppers respond well to other content also-especially customer reviews and ratings. Golfsmith hosts 50,000 user-generated product reviews and 500 questions in its Ask & Answer section. Shoppers who read reviews convert on average 5% higher and those who use Ask & Answer have 17% higher average order value than those who do not.

Besides tapping into major trends, some Hot 100 e-retailers are innovating in simpler ways:

- Best Buy’s Pitch In card: The shopper creates an account and a wish list, and friends and relatives contribute to it online or at an in-store kiosk.

- Shopping.HP.com’s new nav bar: New top navigation tabs drop down not a text list of subcategories but images with text that help guide the consumer. For instance, the Desktops and All-in-One PCs tab shows these sub-categories: Everyday computing, Slim and sleek, High performance, All-in-one PCs and Quick-ship models, all with corresponding images. HP says this feature got such a positive response in testing that it didn’t even finish the test; it just implemented the feature.

- Overstock.com’s memory: Overstock.com remembers what a shopper views. When she returns, it shows those and related items on the home page-a huge stride in the much-touted but yet-to-develop strategy of one-to-one marketing.

- Net-A-Porter.com’s expertise: Employees at Net-A-Porter try on apparel, then provide information like jean rise, leg opening and headband width on product pages-a great example of a low-tech approach to improving the web site experience. It’s also a good example of creating an online experience that store merchants would have a hard time replicating. By aggregating shoppers, the Internet allows Net-A-Porter to provide information uniformly to all customers-a near-impossible endeavor in a store.

We hope you might find in the following pages several ideas suited to your own web site that could help you get into the Hot 100 next year. Congratulations to our Hot 100 and Mobile Commerce 5 honorees.

Best wishes for the Holidays and best of luck in the coming year.

kurt@verticalwebmedia.com

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