October 7, 2010, 2:55 PM

Ice.com hopes to match its Prime success with ShopRunner

The jewelry retailer is one of the first merchants to join the GSI shipping program.

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Online jewelry retailer Ice.com hopes to replicate its success with Amazon.com Inc.’s Prime free shipping program through a similar program that launched this week, ShopRunner.

Fifteen retailers and e-commerce services provider GSI Commerce Inc. this week introduced the ShopRunner program, which enables consumers who pay $79 a year—the same as for Amazon’s Prime—to receive free two-day shipping and free returns. Prime also offers free two-day shipping to Prime members but does not cover shipping for returns. GSI expects 40 retailers to join the program by year’s end.

One of those will be Ice.com, No. 195 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide. The retailer will join the program as soon as possible, says Pinny Gniwisch, Ice.com’s executive vice president and chief motivational officer.

Ice.com joined Prime about six months ago, he says, selling what he calls quick-moving items there. The retailer has enjoyed conversion rates of 30% to 40% higher for items on Prime than for its other items for sale on Amazon.com. “It’s a very good value,” he says. 

ShopRunner will be different in one respect for retailers such as Ice.com, he adds: Retailers oversee shipping of their products, as opposed to handing off fulfillment duties to Amazon for items that will be covered by the Prime offer.

ShopRunner has other potential advantages over Prime, says Scot Wingo, CEO of ChannelAdvisor Corp., which helps merchants sell on eBay and other marketplaces, and which also has GSI as a large customer. He says ShopRunner could offer more exclusive deals and discounts than Amazon can on its own; GSI says the program’s web site, ShopRunner.com, will offer those deals through a marketplace section, now in beta testing.

A disadvantage for ShopRunner, however, includes a combined product inventory that remains dwarfed by what Wingo calls the “monster selection of Amazon and their powerful first-party and third-party capabilities.” By “first party,” Wingo is referring to the goods Amazon sells on its own behalf, while “third party” refers to goods sold by other merchants on the Amazon.com marketplace.

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