November 25, 2002, 12:00 AM

Specialty/Non-Apparel: Anything and Everything

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Where it’s always cool

The serious climber in search of an ice axe can find some dandy ones at a number of retail sites. But for the tool with latest features-the one that’s not yet out there in the marketplace at large-he might just look first at The online retailer targets only the experienced hard-core outdoor sports enthusiast, and it supports customer service with expert staff of the same stripe. And after six years, it does it so well that gear manufacturers now use the site for product testing before a full rollout. has carved out its niche online, then filled it by going deep instead of broad. And it has proven that the virtual model works by doing it all from the small high-range town of Heber City, Utah. One of the site’s secret weapons is a call center staff of hard-core skiers and trekkers. “Our customer service guys are doing things like hiking the Grand Tetons in the spring, a difficult thing to do,” says vice president of marketing John Bresee. “We figured that if these were the people at our call center, we would have a huge advantage. It’s probably our main differentiator.” also puts “as much truth as possible” on the page, adds Bresee, including such features as unedited reviews from product users-even when negative. The full disclosure policy and the gear experts help attract hard-core enthusiasts who are ahead of trends. Core to the site’s marketing philosophy is that product influencers, who are first to experiment with new gear, will drive others to the site. pursues them by cultivating tight relationships with key manufacturers that can get it products other retailers’ can’t get, at least not first.

“The site features some specialty products that you can’t find on other sites,” notes Mary Brett Whitfield, senior vice president at Retail Forward. “They do a great job of letting shoppers compare and contrast among different items, from a functionality standpoint as well as from a merchandising perspective.”

Site traffic is up about 90% year over year, and while Bresee won’t disclose dollars, sales are up 150%. converts a healthy 7% of visitors, either by closing a sale or by getting them to take some desired action such as registering for a newsletter.

Segmented e-mail campaigns and targeted keywords on paid engine Overture Services Inc. help drive repeat sales and new customers, but it’s word of mouth that is one of the most valuable marketing tools for this highly specialized retailer. “There is no one more qualified than the person who comes to our site,” says Bresee. “They’re spreading the message as much as anything.”

December 1996
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Atomz Site Search
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Commission Junction Inc.
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Content rules, but doesn’t overrule

“Content is king” used to be the web mantra-until someone realized content usually doesn’t pay the bills. Then many e-retail sites became only about selling. But just as content didn’t work for many sites, so, too, a focus only on selling doesn’t work for many. And so some are taking a middle approach.

And that’s the story about A premier retailer of outdoor gear, with stores and a catalog, Cabela’s has been selling on the web since November 1998. And content has been a key part of the shopping experience. “Shopping pays the bills and that’s one of the things we had to focus on,” says Tim Miller, director of “But it’s more than just selling product. A customer may not know what he wants or he may be trying a new sport that could be intimidating, like fly fishing. Content allows him to build on his interests.”

And so just as a customer would ask a store associate about deer hunting or water purification systems, stocks information on its site. And that content-about activities and products both-likely adds to the site’s success, says Arvin Jawa, manager with retail consultants LakeWest Group. “They achieve loyalty by building community through the information,” he says. “The product information is excellent and probably even more than you need in knowing how to evaluate a product.”

But just as retailers have become more sophisticated about marketing and merchandising on the web, so have they become smarter about content. is implementing a personalization system from Art Technology Group Inc. that will tie customers more closely to content. Customers register their interests, then whenever they log on, they get relevant content and products. “We personalize it so it has value to customers, but then we watch what happens to make sure it has value for us,” Miller says.

The site features a clean, direct look without flashy graphics or fancy layout. That’s OK, Jawa says. “The user is more interested in product information than graphics quality,” he says. And it contributes to easy navigation. “You always know where in the hierarchy you are and how to get back to categories.” he says. The site also gets points from Jawa for live chat assistance and a special ordering feature, rare for web sites.

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