September 15, 2010, 1:12 PM

Niche retailer Online Stores focuses on improving performance

After years of adding web stores, the retailer is focusing on improving its existing sites.

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After years of adding niche retail sites, Online Stores Inc. is focusing more attention on improving the performance of its existing stores, says co-founder and vice president Kevin Hickey.

“There’s a trade-off between having lots of stores and not doing a terribly good job and having a small number of stores and doing a better job,” Hickey says. “We’re trying to do a better job on all of our existing stores, and not open too, too many stores, maybe one or two a year.”

Online Stores, No. 346 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, has opened several new stores this year, including LandscapersStore.com, launched in March, and DesignerBaby.com, launched in May. “Both have been doing fairly well,” he says, without giving details.

But the niche retailer also has been devoting resources to improving sites launched last year, including ConstructionGear.com, which sells work clothing and boots, and Safetygirl.com, which sells personal safety items such as pepper spray and alarms for women.

Online Stores several weeks ago introduced filtered navigation from Nextopia Software Corp. in the work boots section of ConstructionGear.com.  Now web shoppers can tailor their search through more specific categories such as by gender, brand, color, shoe size and other criteria. “There are a wide number of work boots, which makes it hard for customers to find the best fit to what they need,” Hickey says.

Since introducing filtered navigation, the conversion rate has improved, and the technology will be introduced to other areas of the site as well as into other Online Store sites, he says. He declined to provide specifics.

The retailer also is continuing to add in-house brands to its inventories, most recently work boots for both men and women at ConstructionGear.com. “As our stores become more established, we try to have more of our in-house, high-value range of products that sort of complement the standard products that we offer from branded vendors,” he says.

Google’s new remarketing campaign program also is helping to improve sales conversion at several of Online Stores’ main sites, Hickey says. Under the program, Google tracks consumers leaving a retailer’s site and shows them ads promoting the site as consumers navigate to other web sites that present ads managed by Google. Online Stores began using the program about three months ago.

“We’ve been getting fairly high conversion rates of up to 10% on that,” he says. “It’s been working pretty well for us.”

Hickey says sales at Online Stores sites are up about 15% so far this year, adding “we’re hoping to increase that.” The retailer, which operates 22 online stores, posted 2009 web sales of $23.6 million.

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