The fastest-growing online merchants ranked in the Top 500 Guide are offering unique products that can’t be found on Amazon, catering to mobile shoppers, ...
Few categories of online retailing require the attention to photography and content as food and drug.
Few categories of online retailing require the attention to photography and content as food and drug. Especially on the food side of the equation, the online buying experience requires enticements that can overcome the major obstacles of selling food online—the customer can neither taste nor smell the product. Walk into a Godiva store, for instance, and the chocolate aroma establishes an instant gotta-have-something reaction that can be reinforced with a free sample. Godiva.com overcomes its online limitations with high-quality, art-like photos of candy and boxes.
The same goes for Berries.com, where a click on the picture of chocolate-dipped strawberries shoots the photo up to an enlarged screen, where further clicking enlarges the pictures even more to the point where the shopper can almost taste the berries. “When you’re trying to make the viewer salivate, that technology is ideal,” says Kevin Beresford, president and CEO of parent Shari’s Berries International Inc.
And then there’s Hersheys.com. While the photography isn’t as stellar as at Godiva or Berries, Hershey’s knows its customers and has created other ways to engage them that compensate for the lack of taste or smell. All the time, it is supporting its brand and the retail chains that are the major outlets for its products. It offers recipes for chocolate baked goods, quizzes to test a customer’s chocolate personality type, video tours of its chocolate factory and Hershey’s-branded ancillary products, such as stuffed bears and t-shirts. “Hershey’s connects well with consumers,” says consultant Kelly Mooney of Ten\Resource. “It makes visiting the site fun.”
The other sites in this category excel because they provide experiences that customers can’t get offline or, if they are part of a chain, that enhance the customer’s offline experience. CVS.com, for instance, allows customers to order their prescriptions on the web and pick them up at a store, as does Drugstore.com through a relationship with the Rite-Aid chain. CVS also allows customers to check their loyalty points online, a pioneering offering in the drug market, while Drugstore has devised innovative cross-sell technology that takes into account past shopping as well as buying.
And SimonDelivers.com has devised a unique online/offline combination. Unsure online shoppers can call SimonDelivers, which has no chain counterpart, to have a service rep come out to their homes and teach them how to conduct a transaction.
Shoppers at Shari’s Berries International Inc.’s Berries.com know as soon as they arrive at the home page what the site is all about. Up front is a photo of luscious strawberries dipped in chocolate. With a click, a shopper can enlarge the photo, then zoom in for a closer look. “When you’re trying to make the viewer salivate, that technology is ideal,” says Kevin Beresford, president and CEO of Shari’s Berries, which uses the Speedera/-TrueSpectra delivery and zoom technology.
But as great as the home page was, it wasn’t good enough for Shari’s Berries. In mid November, it launched a new site—designed in-house—that featured the products even more. “There was too much text on the home page,” Beresford says. That approach is typical of how the company operates, Beresford says, with staffers gathering twice a year and critiquing the site. In the most recent session, he says, “We concluded we weren’t looking at the design from the customer’s point of view. We knew the site and how to get around, but it wasn’t clear that the customer knew.”
While it’s too early to know if the latest design will result in additional sales, Beresford notes that rotating the products on the home page directly affects sales. For instance, Halloween, which is not a high-end sweets holiday, was big for Shari’s Berries. “We doubled our sales for Halloween,” Beresford says. The secret: berries with different dipping patterns, some resembling jack o’ lanterns, played with a Halloween bear—all displayed prominently on the home page. “Halloween was an event for us this year,” Beresford says.
Shari’s Berries’ sales will grow about 23% this year, Beresford says, and the major initiatives the company has undertaken have been to create infrastructure for growth next year. For instance, it examined product packaging and determined that with simple redesigns of shipping cartons, it could reduce the number of molded foam pieces it uses to insulate the boxes. Now, one size of foam is the long side on a six-strawberry box, for instance, and the short side on a 12-berry box. That decision resulted in fewer parts to manage, less warehouse space and bulk purchasing discounts. That and other changes reduced packaging costs by 10%, Beresford says.
For next year, the company plans to send delivery notifications, the way many e-retailers today send shipping notifications. “Many people baby-sit our product, calling in to find out if it’s been delivered,” Beresford says. He plans to send delivery notification by e-mail or automated phone message. “It will keep our equipment available for when people really need to talk to somebody,” he says.
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Among retail segments slow to persuade consumers to purchase online has been health and beauty. But one player—CVS.com—has been aggressive in the last year in integrating its online sales to its national chain of pharmacies and in offering additional online value. “Sales of health and beauty items have been small until this past year,” says Carrie Johnson, senior analyst for Forrester Research Inc. But once that business started to catch on, CVS was quick to move. “They’ve undertaken a major effort in the last year to integrate their web site with their stores,” Johnson says.