November 30, 2005, 12:00 AM

Computers/Electronics/CDs/DVDs Creating the kind of site that consumers love

By their very nature, online consumer electronics retailers build and maintain some of the web’s best e-commerce sites. The reason: the need to maintain market share in a furiously competitive web category.


Internet Retailer Best of the Web 2006

By their very nature, online consumer electronics retailers build and maintain some of the web’s best e-commerce sites. The reason: the need to maintain market share in a furiously competitive web category.

Merchants in different segments may be able to compete by only offering lower prices or a wider selection, but in consumer electronics, visitors demand it all. When a visitor clicks on one of these sites, they naturally expect to find the merchandise they want and at a great price.

But visitors also expect a total online shopping experience that includes customer ratings, product reviews, interactive product displays and plenty of technical specifications. For example, recently introduced a rich media program that enables customers to design a kitchen or laundry area, research the products on and e-mail the design to others. “The design center is a sophisticated use of guided selling applications,” says Kent Allen, president of The Research Trust.

Another online consumer electronics retailer making maximum use of content is, which recently enhanced its Crutchfield Advisor pages with better search functionality. Now one click on the new Reviews tab automatically pulls up what’s pertinent in the Crutchfield Advisor, letting shoppers skip the additional steps of going to that area of the site and searching the Advisor for the information. “This helps the brand and the customers’ experience,” says senior director Andrew Stevenson.

When they land on a retail site and look to spend hundreds of dollars on a personal computer or even more on a plasma TV, customers expect lots of advice and technical specifications. In response, created Sony 101, a series of online classes. SonyStyle’s information centers are also designed to emphasize the Sony brand and use content to create cross-selling opportunity, says Jack Halperin, senior vice president, consumer direct business.

Winning consumer electronics sites know that online customers respond to a well-balanced shopping experience, which is a key reason is integrating online photo service Snapfish into its product mix and giving registered users perks such as free online storage. “Digital imagery is a priority for us,” says Peter Moreo, director of sales and merchandising. Another electronics site,, fulfills customer expectations by posting large amounts of photos of new products that includes all sides of the merchandise and the accompanying accessories, manuals, wires and CDs.

Customers respond to consumer electronics sites that cater to their lifestyle-and make it easier to shop across multi-channels. For instance, is growing at more than 30% per year because the site has the right mix of gadgets and prices that technocrats find appealing. “We’ve been growing about 30% per year for the last four or five years and expect to do about $18 million this year,” says co-founder Scott Smith.

With many consumer electronics sites offering about the same content, products and design, top performing retailers are using multiple channels to remain the best of the web. Circuit City now guarantees items purchased online can be ready for a store pickup in 24 minutes or the customer receives a $24 gift card. “We wanted to come up with a time frame that grabbed people’s attention,” says Circuit City chief marketing officer Fiona Dias.
The ultimate tour guide

Customer education is a major part of successful multi-channel retailing and few multi-channel retailers are as adept at meeting this difficult challenge as

In October, unveiled a new interactive education tool that uses rich media and room planning tools to enable customers to design a kitchen or laundry area, pick appliances from to see how they fit the design, and share the design with others. The application, which is part of a campaign to boost awareness that Best Buy sells more than consumer electronics, is a viral marketing strategy.

By allowing users to e-mail their designs to others, has created a tool to introduce the store, its products and its guided selling tools to a new audience, not to mention, lock in users as repeat customers.

“Best Buy has invested well and wisely in guided selling tools,” says Kent Allen, president of The Research Trust. “Once someone commits the time to learn how to use these tools, they will come back. The design center is a very sophisticated use of guided selling applications.”

Guided selling tools are also a way to get people into the store by whetting their appetites for product information just enough so they desire to actually see a product in person before making the purchasing decision. Once inside the store, personal shopping assistants can leverage the customer’s knowledge about what they want in the desired product, but more importantly, to also close cross-sell and upsell opportunities.

“Retailers have a better chance of selling accessories in store than online because people can actually touch and feel the merchandise and see how the entire package fits together,” adds Allen. “Best Buy defines multi-channel retailing as being customer centric and vice versa.”

Beyond its expertise in using guided selling tools to drive sales, has also begun offering online rebates so customers can receive instant credit toward another purchase without having to print, fill out, and mail a form.

“Best Buy has a history of being first to market with a lot of online shopping applications and they continue to provide the tools to better segment the customer shopping experience,” says Geoff Wissman, vice president for Retail Forward Inc.
Independent beat

At first glance looks like an e-commerce site that’s as laid back as its founder, Derek Sivers, a professional musician turned Internet entrepreneur who launched CD Baby as a haven for independent artists who want to sell their music online.

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