December 1, 2010, 12:00 AM

Older and wiser, these e-retail vets know how to serve

These e-retailers put the knowledge they’ve gained over the years to good use for online consumers.

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The computer and electronics retailers selected for the Hot 100 this year have had time to define and refine what strategies work best. Abt Electronics, Abe’s of Maine and PC Connection have decades of retail experience selling electronics. Abt.com and the web-only ComputerGeeks.com are veritable elder statesmen of e-retail, both having launched in 1996. Abe’s (launched in 1999) and SonyStyle.com (launched in 2000) are not much younger.

All of these e-retailers put the knowledge they’ve gained over the years to good use for online consumers. And they know how to allay customer concerns because they’ve got answers to all their customers’ questions and communicate in open, easily understood ways to these core constituencies. They thoroughly understand the needs of their customers, whether it be help selecting accessories to go with a new point-and-shoot camera, or advanced instructions on setting up a data network.

ComputerGeeks.com calls its online information center Tech-Tips; Abt.com calls its a Learning Center. PCConnection.com features a deep archive of podcasts and webinars for its primary audience of business buyers. Five of the six of the Hot 100 retailers in the computers and electronics category offer either live chat or a click-to-call service—or both—on their sites. Abe’s of Maine features an AnswerBox tool on product pages where shoppers can post a question and have customer service reps and even other consumers respond. When it presents optional accessories on a product page, it does so under the banner of “Why do I need this?” to help consumers further consider their purchases.

The category also features two manufacturer sites. SonyStyle, the e-retail arm of the electronics manufacturer, takes a slightly different tack to deliver product information. Its confident sales pitch pits Sony products against competitors’ products and invites consumers to compare. Store.TheFlip.com, a relatively new site, sells Flip Video cameras and accessories from Internet networking company Cisco Systems Inc. It features a customization tool that customers use to design their own colorful camera case, or they can load a picture from their own computer.

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