December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

Puttin` on the Ritz

At, luxury item e-retailer, the focus is clear: let the shopper shop. Visitors can begin to shop from the home page and return to shopping from any other page. There is a plethora of shopping categories, free shipping and gift packaging, and Ashford credit. The home page is splashed with expensive watches and other luxury items; Ashford says it carries 15,000 styles covering 400 brands.

In addition to product category menus, Ashford has a gift center where shoppers can look for gifts for him or her, those under $1,000 or $500, top sellers or buyers’ pick. The company also gears its customer interaction to shopping. When visitors select an item, they are asked to sign up for emails notifying them how to get special offers on that item. Visitors also are asked to send email questions to the company for expert advice on the products. Ashford is enticing its shoppers to sign up for credit at the site by offering zero interest for the first three months. Shoppers apply for the credit online and learn in less than a minute if they are approved. Once approved for credit, shoppers then get advanced email notices of sales and members-only specials. Ashford shoppers also can split their payments among different credit cards. For example, putting $500 on three different cards can pay for a $1,500 diamond ring.

Analyst Keven Wilder, of Wilder and Associates, says the site could do more to establish itself as a brand. Wilder also says the site could go further to “romance the jewelry and the quality.” The company says its model has been working and it plans to reach profitability by the end of 2001. It boasts a 33% return customer rate and says that based on a recent survey, there are 7.5 million potential customers online.

Houston, Texas

Monthly visitors: 1.5 million +

Sales: $12 million Q2

Went live: April 1998

Design by: In-house

OS: In-house

E-C Software: N/A

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