November 30, 2005, 12:00 AM

Flowers/Gifts/Jewelry Taking a fresh approach to online sales

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But what makes American Greetings different from other multi-channel greeting card companies and e-card destinations is the effort American Greetings is making to identify new customer segments and diversify its interactive lines of business. AG Interactive recently updated with a new look. The home page now features links to other products, including party or special events invitations, calendars, gift cards, paper cards and wallpaper and screen savers.

“We wanted to strike a balance,” says senior vice president and general manager Sally Babcock. “We wanted to draw more attention to our core e-card products, but also emphasize the other merchandise we offer.”

AG Interactive is also moving into new lines of business. In August, AG Interactive launched a pair of web sites that target American Greetings’ most sought after online customers: women aged 20 to 55. The first launch,, an e-cards site aimed at women 25 to 40, features more than 300 e-cards and other features available for an annual subscription fee of $9.99. The other launch,, offers similar cards and content to women 50+.

During peak greeting-card seasons in February, May and December, online traffic to can swell to more than 20 million visitors. With such a large and diverse base of online customers, analysts say the timing is right for AG Interactive to diversify.

“American Greetings is enhancing its customer appeal, but more importantly increasing its cross-selling opportunities,” says Robert Antall, CEO of retail consulting firm LakeWest Group LLC.
No gimmicks allowed


Video and flash applications may be all the rage for some online retailers, but not The Internet pure play jeweler continues to build a potent brand the old fashioned way, by paying close attention to servicing its customers every step of the way and providing them with the tools and information needed to make an informed purchasing decision.

The company has stated it will never include a video application on its site, as such bells and whistles distract customers from making purchases. Instead,’s focus is on providing information about the cut, color, clarity, and carat of a diamond, and tools throughout the site that aid the customer in making the purchasing decision, such as prominently listing its toll free number on each page. All service representatives receive four weeks of training before being allowed to interact with customers.

“Blue Nile has created a very clean, easy to use site that doesn’t rely on glitz to sell their products,” says Curt Barry, president of F. Curtis Barry & Co. “When retailers rely on glitz, it can detract from the product.”

One of the recent enhancements to the site allows customers to build their own five-stone diamond ring, three-stone diamond pendant, and six-stone diamond earrings. Customers can choose from more than 60,000 diamonds and a variety of settings. Customization, which began offering in the late 1990s for engagement rings, is intended to make it easier for customers to purchase the piece of their choice. “So many times in a store customers are limited to what is in the display case, when what they want is something more distinctive,” adds Barry.

Earlier this year launched two new web sites to service Canada and the United Kingdom. The jeweler’s emphasis on service, selection, and education is expected to play well with Canadian and U.K. consumers, since jewelers in those countries typically have an extremely limited selection.

Looking ahead, BlueNile insists future enhancements to the site will be based on enhancing the functionality of the site, rather than razzle-dazzle. “This is the kind of site that creates excitement for customers who are not regular online shoppers,” Barry says.
Specializing in a concept


There are a lot of web sites where a shopper can order a gift basket. But most specialize-they may offer baskets of fruit or gourmet foods or wine. One site has found a niche market in the gift basket

Its home site lists 18 categories of gift baskets to help customers find exactly what they want. Some are sorted by season or occasion. Others are sorted by the type of items in the baskets-i.e. gourmet foods or fruit or Mrs. Field cookies. Shoppers can even choose their category by price-such as a section of gifts under $50.

Because has been selling gift baskets online since 1994, it has learned a lot about what customers want in gift baskets. Its presentation is very simple-it doesn’t romance the product; rather it stresses efficient shopping with few images and super fast page downloads. “This site offers a lot of selection and they make it easy for customers to find just what they want,” says Patti Freeman Evans, analyst with Jupiter Research. That ease is important in a field where there are a lot of choices and shoppers typically want to get to a narrow list of offerings.

Buying gift baskets online is a growing market. “It makes a lot of sense to order gift baskets online since it is a product that often has to be shipped anyway,” says Evans. “But while this site competes with a lot of sites-from gourmet food companies to wine companies or florists-what sets it apart is that it appeals to shoppers who haven’t decided what kind of gift they want to give.” also offers its entire site in Spanish. “The number of consumers who prefer to interact in Spanish is growing and while this is not a feature that every retailer needs to offer, this site appears to be making a strong appeal to that market,” says Evans.

The site also features an interesting promotion: If a shopper selects a product, then backs away from the order form to shop more, the shopper receives a pop-up window offering a $7.50 discount to complete the order. Close it and it doesn’t come back.
The ringmaster


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