Doran Robinson previously worked for healthcare information technology vendor athenahealth.
The financial troubles of the dot-com retailers have garnered all the attention this year. But guess what-consumers are still shopping online. And they’re doing it in greater numbers than they did last year. Latest projections for total online shopping this year are $24.6 billion, according to researchers eMarketer of New York. That amount is nearly double last year’s spending. And there seems to be no let-up in the buying. All reports are that people are turning to the Internet with greater frequency and confidence. “Wall Street crashed, but Main Street didn’t,” says Mary Modahl, vice president of Forrester Research, Cambridge, Mass.
But that vote of confidence also means that consumers are becoming more discriminating in their shopping. And reacting to the more sophisticated buying behavior is what sets Internet Retailer’s Top 25 sites apart from the pack. No longer are shoppers only the technological whizzes who had no fear clicking here and there. Nor are they only high-income consumers with fast and sophisticated equipment. Today they are likely to be the 35- to 54-year-old middle to upper middle income women who have made ColdwaterCreek.com a successful site. “We’ve really stayed true to who our customer is,” says Karen Reed, Coldwater Creek’s vice president of the Internet Division. “We offer the same level of customer service that we offer elsewhere. And we’ve not focused on the flash technology or any of the more exciting stuff. We focus on who our customer is.”
Internet Retailer’s Top 25 Retailer Web Sites reflect a broad range of retailing. We did not focus on just the biggest or those that received the most press. We looked for best best-of-class in a number of areas, including site design, ease of navigation, innovation, great execution, overall excellence. We talked to dozens of industry analysts and consultants to whittle our list to 25, with 15 web sites to watch.
Last year, it seemed that the catalogers were going to take over the web. But a shift has occurred; bricks-and-mortar retailers are coming on strong. Thus Kmart Corp.’s BlueLight.com makes the Top 25 because it cracked open the market to middle-income shoppers who had not demonstrated a big propensity to go online. Nordstrom, Sears, Staples and Barnes & Noble, all powerhouses in the real world, are represented on the Top 25. Catalogers are still positioned to do well on the web, and Alloy, Lands’ End and Coldwater Creek are all there. But what is a cataloger these days? Pure-play RedEnvelope is mailing catalogs, as are many other former pure-plays.
But for all the hits they’ve taken this year, pure-plays are still strong on the web, and they, too, are in the Top 25. Any best-of list must include Amazon, still the standard setter for Internet retailing. But other pure-plays large and small are represented. Underneath.com, with six employees, makes it for its high quality look and its depth of products. EBags gets on the list because not only is it a great retail site, it’s also harnessing the power of the Internet in providing interesting, non-selling content to visitors. Webvan and Kozmo are on the list because they are changing the shopping public’s mindset about what one can buy on the web and how quickly it can be delivered.
And if one thing can be said about retailing on web, it’s that it’s always changing people’s mindsets. These sites are all doing their part to help.
Profiles by Kurt Peters, Rick Markley,
Andrea McKenna Findlay, Mary Wagner
The Top 25