November 30, 2005, 12:00 AM

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

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But is a web retailing destination for shoppers and musicians who are truly serious about independent music. Today carries an inventory of more than 100,000 CDs and sells a wide variety of music ranging from blues to hip hop.

Although basic in design and lacking the flash graphics and hyped-up images found on other music sites, CD Baby features expanded search functions and an extensive library. For instance, site visitors, which average almost 700,000 per month, can search CD Baby by artist, music category and top sellers. But what really makes the site work well for customers and artists is its niche and unique approach to selling independent music, says Sivers. “We are the web store for independent artists who need a place to sell their CD,” he says. “There is a lot of insincerity in the music business, but this site is a real deal with a soul.”

CD Baby carries music performed by nearly 110,000 independent artists and has sold more than 2 million CDs since 1998. Independent artists also flock to because the site has paid independent musicians nearly $20 million in royalties.

Sivers, who launched CD Baby as a way to sell and promote his own album, keeps CD Baby’s site design and e-commerce functionality straightforward and low-key. The company has outlasted higher-profile and better-financed start-ups such as and occupies a new 25,000-square-foot distribution facility, but Sivers remains the chief programmer and a very hands-on web designer. “For the first year, CD Baby was just me,” he says. “I’d put the daily orders in my backpack and ride my bike down to the Post Office.”

But the fact that the site is straightforward and remains a hit with shoppers and artists alike accounts for why CD Baby has staying power, says Barbara Zaccone, president of multimedia design communications firm, Barbara Zaccone Associates. “The layout is clean and the navigation works well,” she says. “The site serves its audience very successfully without having to use a lot of bells and whistles.”
The 24-minute solution

Already a seasoned pro at allowing customers to buy online and pick up in store, has pushed the concept to a higher level. The multi-channel electronics retailer now guarantees items purchased online to be ready for pickup in 24 minutes or the customer receives a $24 gift card. The new service, which plays on the notion of 24/7 customer service, is expected to give an edge during the peak holiday shopping season, a time when many consumers prefer to shop online to avoid in-store crowds, but worry about timely delivery from online retailers.

“Closely integrating the online and in-store channels can advantageously position a retailer in the minds of their customers,” says Geoff Wissman, vice president with consultants Retail Forward Inc. hatched the idea for the new service when research revealed that a small percentage of consumers were aware they could purchase an item online and pick up in store, a service Circuit City launched in 1999. “We knew several other retailers offered the same service, but fulfillment usually takes place in 24-48 hours, and only a few claim to have pickup within an hour, so we decided that to compete more effectively on this point, we had to do it best,” says Fiona Dias, chief marketing officer for Circuit City.

Making the transition to fulfilling an online order within 24 minutes was not as big a stretch as it might seem. With in-store sales associates trained to fulfill online orders within minutes of receiving them, the key was tweaking its inventory tracking application to show real time availability of all products in each store. Sales associates working in each store’s warehouse are equipped with beepers that notify them immediately when an order is placed.

So why the guarantee of 24 minutes? “It’s a play on the 24/7 shopping capabilities of the Internet,” explains Dias, who adds the retailer has made 24-minute pickup a center point of its advertising strategy. “We also wanted to come up with a time frame that grabbed people’s attention, and maybe seemed a little absurd to our competitors, but which we knew we could manage and would make our online shopping experience simpler.”
Connecting with content


Finding the electronics products they want on is close to a sure thing for web shoppers, given the depth of the assortment. But seeing the content that sells is also critical, and this year the multi-channel retailer tops its own performance with a site refresh that helps shoppers get to that key information faster.

New web site functionality reaches into the Crutchfield Advisor, an extensive repository of staff and consumer-generated articles and product reviews, to link content relevant to the item being viewed on a product page directly to the review. One click on the new Reviews tab automatically pulls ups 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.

Crutchfield has linked Crutchfield Advisor content directly to product pages on about 650 of the most popular products on Shortening the path has sparked a major increase in the number of visitors influenced by that content, says senior director of Andrew Stevenson. “That helps the brand and the customers’ experience,” he adds. “It also has significantly increased conversions among people who view that content.”

Though it’s one of online retail’s senior citizens, having launched in 1996 as the web arm of a 20-year-old catalog business, has remained unflagging in its drive to optimize the site. Taking on the deeper integration of its extensive content base with its shopping process is just one example of that this year. It’s also boosted usability, streamlined the user interface, and added images, more user-friendly descriptions and a broader layout that makes it easier for visitors to flip trough the site. This year it’s also launched a Spanish language web site.

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