CEO Sharon Price John says Build-A-Bear’s old e-commerce system is a big reason for disappointing online sales in December.
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The driving force behind the makeover is Jack Halperin, who oversaw SonyStyle.com from 2001 through 2003, and in the process, established the site as a shopping destination for consumer electronics, before moving on to head other initiatives within Sony Corp.
To return SonyStyle.com to preeminence, Halperin is leveraging the site’s infrastructure and knowledge of direct to consumer sales to create a more dynamic sales environment rich with content that influences the purchasing decision, and prompts customers to purchase related Sony products.
SonyStyle.com also plans to syndicate the look and feel of its web site to retail partners so that Sony products on their web sites are presented in a manner consistent with that of SonyStyle.com. The move is part of an overarching strategy to revitalize the Sony brand, which was eclipsed this year by Samsung on Interbrand Corp.’s list of the Top 100 global brands.
“SonyStyle remains an asset for the company and the aim is to use the site to show Sony’s power as an entertainment company that offers customers and retail partners end-to-end solutions,” says Halperin, now senior vice president, Consumer Direct Business for Sony Electronics Inc.
One of the first steps taken toward achieving this goal has been to create Sony 101, online classes where consumers can learn, for instance, how to create a digital library of music, video, and other entertainment mediums on a home computer or how to improve digital photography skills. Halperin envisions SonyStyle.com’s information solutions as a way to move customers of one Sony product, such as hardware, into related products, such as its Media Editor software application, and content, such as DVDs and CDs.
“Providing richer content is a way to keep up with changing consumer expectations and buying habits for shopping online,” says Michael Gartenberg, vice president and research director for Jupiter Research.
It may take geeks to understand geeks, especially when running a retail web site that caters to their whims-like a wristwatch that would give most non-geeks a headache trying to tell time by its binary code formula, a Swiss Army knife with a built-in USB flash drive, or a belt-mounted, scrolling LCD-display that repeatedly announces “I’m a Geek.”
But interject a large dose of business savvy, and you have the makings of ThinkGeek.com. Despite the emphasis on geekiness, this site is run by marketing experts who know how to engage their customers. “ThinkGeek encourages me to want to desire the things they sell, as opposed to other sites that scream price, price, price,” says Matthew Berk, a former JupiterResearch analyst who is co-founder of OpenList.com, a travel-and-entertainment search engine.
The strategy is paying off. “We’ve been growing about 30% a year for the last four or five years and expect to do about $18 million this year,” says co-founder Scott Smith.
And that’s without selling computers. When Smith and several colleagues launched ThinkGeek in 1999, they decided to focus on the geek lifestyle, leaving the tight-margin computer business to others. Starting with basic items like T-shirts and coffee mugs, they’ve gradually expanded with a mixture of useful and just-for-fun products-but always with an overall marketing strategy.
Rather than spending heavily on formal advertising and marketing campaigns-“Geeks can be suspicious of marketing,” Smith says-ThinkGeek uses alternate ways of drawing customers and publicizing its brand. A customer forum section asks people to discuss their computer operating systems, not because ThinkGeek wants to sell them something related to operating systems, but because geeks like discussing such things. “It keeps traffic coming back and increases sales,” Smith says.
Because geeks are known for their reliance on caffeine to get through long hours of programming computer code, ThinkGeek has developed unique products like caffeine-injected Shower Shock soap, which combines cleaning with the impact of a strong cup of coffee.
While serving the needs of geeks, Shower Shock has also paid other dividends. “It got us on Good Morning America,” Smith says.
Caffeinated hot sauce, anyone?