December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

A green light for`s relaunch

The first phase of Kmart spin-off’s strategy was to corral mass-market shoppers by signing them up for free Internet access, something it’s done by the millions since April. Now, just ahead of the holiday shopping blitz, it’s delivered phase two: a revved-up web site that builds on the “preview” site it had earlier posted to give those new shoppers a destination.

The relaunched site debuted in late October with a boatload of new features. It boosts online inventory from 60,000 to as many as 300,000 SKUs and offers specialty stores that feature exclusive products including Kmart brands Martha Stewart Everyday, Route 66, and Kathy Ireland. Shoppers also have new search options such as the Pop Culture Shop, which serves up merchandise based on the latest entertainment, celebrity and lifestyle trends. They can also search by category, brand, item, with price up and price down features. Also new is the Best Match search, which pops up the most popular products based on other shoppers’ purchases. Comparison shopping, another new feature, presents up to three similar products with photos and specifications.

On the back end, members can store profile information to speed checkout, and even store addresses of friends and family to arrange gift deliveries in just a few clicks. To get packages there on time, BlueLight has teamed up with Columbus, Ohio-based e-fulfillment vendor, and it’s added order tracking via phone or e-mail. It’s also tightened up cross-channel integration, allowing shoppers to return items purchased online to Kmart stores.

But industry watchers see some gaffes sprinkled in with the improvements. Among the most jarring is the look of the home page itself, which fails to integrate the kitschy, cartoon-like BlueLight graphics with the more elegant Martha Stewart Everyday offering plopped front and center on the page. Below the top shop icons lined up neatly at the head of the page, the design “falls apart,” with too much competing for shoppers’ attention, says consultant Keven Wilder of Wilder & Associates, Chicago. And a feature that pops up alternatives to items under consideration was baffling. “Why question the shopper’s choice? They’ve got the technology in place for cross selling, but there’s been a misstep in the way they’ve programmed it,” she says.

Wilder had raves, though, for improved search speed, image quality and a feature so far little-seen on shopping sites: instant display of shipping charges for items under consideration, even before they’re placed in shopping carts.

The company is sanguine about the criticism, pointing out that every alteration is the result of testing with consumers. And as to the graphic disconnect between Martha Stewart Everyday and the rest of the home page, well, Martha herself calls the shots on how her products are presented-as do other specialty stores such Sesame Street and Nickelodeon. At the end of the day, it’s shoppers who will cast the biggest vote, and sales suggest they like what they see: won’t provide dollar figures, but reports conversion rates doubled in the week after relaunch.

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