November 25, 2002, 12:00 AM

Computers/Electronics/CDs: High-tech sites for tech-smart shoppers

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A new classic

Nearly 30 years ago, car enthusiast Bill Crutchfield was stumped when he tried to retrofit a classic Porsche 356 coupe with a new audio system; the tools and information simply weren’t available. That helped launch a $200 million car and home consumer electronics business that includes a catalog and a multi-award-winning web site that features a well-executed cross-channel strategy that sets the standard for making a complex electronics purchase easy.

“We see each channel as having its advantages and supporting one another, so the web has different roles. It’s a transactional site for those who want it, it drives telephone sales, and it’s an information source,” says Alan Rimm-Kaufman, vice president of marketing.

Crutchfield drops 35 million catalogs a year and web traffic spikes after mailings. The site features the 800 number on each page and even includes content about its phone agents. Crutchfield invests heavily in its in-house staff of 150 agents with three to four months of training, exams to pass, and ongoing instruction from Crutchfield and vendors. “Companies that go to the level of training we do are typically in the b2b space with higher tickets,” Rimm-Kaufman says.

More than a third of Crutchfield’s sales close on the web, which has plenty of tools to help visitors understand the merchandise regardless of how they place their order. There’s lots of behind-the-scenes support, such as its database of measurements of cars’ audio openings-gleaned from dealers and junkyards.

As many of the systems go to customers who will do their own installation, Crutchfield loads the site with easy-to-use features that provide detail that is less easily communicated via other channels. One example is fast-loading, high quality photos of multiple product views. “You can click to get a huge enlargement of the back panel of a home receiver or TV and see very quickly and graphically what the inputs and outputs are. You can’t provide those detailed images in print or on the phone,” Rimm-Kaufman says.

Crutchfield’s web/phone combination is so effective at communicating complex product information and closing the deal that some manufacturers of those products have handed over online sales and support. Sony passes shoppers interested in its mobile electronics from its own e-commerce site to a co-branded page on “Selling mobile electronics is sufficiently complicated for do-it-yourself car installation that Sony felt it couldn’t provide the level of support it wanted customers to have. They found the way they could sell mobile equipment online was to partner with Crutchfield,” says Rimm-Kaufman.

March 1996
Unique Visitors
Design By
Site Search
Affiliate Management
Order Management
Returns Liquidation
Web Analytics
Payment Processor
First Data Corp.
Content Management
E-mail Management
*As reported by comScore Networks Inc.

This site gets it

Dell Computer Corp.’s is a direct-to-consumer model, but it succeeds on the web because that door swings both ways. reflects what Dell gets from consumers-in ongoing usability studies, focus groups, site metrics, e-mail and more. “We’re rich in customer information,” says Sam Decker, senior manager of Dell’s consumer e-business. “It’s the rigor behind it all and applying it in what we do on the site that makes the site easy to use.”

About 50% of Dell’s total $33.7 billion sales are online, and the b2c area of the site gets about 2 million visitors per week. Dell’s value proposition online includes regular discounts and promotions, convenience, and a comfort level for shoppers with the selection process. Though the toll-free number is on every page of the site, Dell’s customers can completely configure a computer system online.

It’s a complex process, and consumers come to it with varying levels of experience and expectations. accommodates the range of shoppers’ needs by putting key learnings from its customer data into tools on the site. Consumers can customize their systems from scratch, or they can use a tiered approach to help them get started. features some popular configurations and components in off-the-shelf packages; shoppers can choose them and then customize further if they wish.

Dell puts its customer data to work in continuous small improvements that add to the online shopping experience. Here’s an example: Dell noticed 25% leakage off the page that offered financing options. “People weren’t getting what they needed from the page; it wasn’t easy to understand,” says Decker. “So we changed the page to feature our primary payment option of 0% financing, put in a calculator and made it easy to use. We saw leakage drop in half the day after the new page was launched.” Here’s another: Dell’s research showed that its one-step online configuration process needed to be further broken down so consumers could follow it better. “We found consumers thought of the process in two steps,” says Decker. “They wanted to configure their system first, and then see what other things they could add. We mapped the process according to what consumers wanted to see and that’s improved conversions.”

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