November 30, 2005, 12:00 AM

Food/Drug/BeautyFood, drug and cosmetics retailers leverage the online option to grow sales

Prescription, sundry, and grocery shopping once required a trip to the store—but not anymore. The Internet has made everything from prescriptions to mascara to meat and produce available online with a few clicks of a mouse, and this year’s category winners have become adept at getting shoppers to choose the online option.


Internet Retailer Best of the Web 2006

Prescription, sundry, and grocery shopping once required a trip to the store-but not anymore. The Internet has made everything from prescriptions to mascara to meat and produce available online with a few clicks of a mouse, and this year’s category winners have become adept at getting shoppers to choose the online option.

At grocery site, the operative word is “easy.” A clear navigation path and the ability to store personal shopping lists make both first-time and repeat purchases a snap. Says Jupiter Research analyst Patti Freeman Evans, “They’ve mastered simplicity.”

Ditto online grocer, which has organized site navigation and beefed up back-end functionality to shave milliseconds of response time off an already fast-loading site to get shoppers in and out quickly. “It’s like Quicken for managing this other part of you life,” says. Tom Parkinson, Peapod’s senior vice president and chief technology officer. “People hammer away at placing their order, and if the site’s not fast, customers go away.”

At billions of dollars, the cosmetics industry qualifies as big business-serious business-but multi-channel cosmetics retailer Sephora keeps customers coming back to by mixing fun with functionality. A gift registry keeps customers browsing the site for goodies with the option of registering a top 10 list for gift requests. A “Fragrance Finder” helps customers sort through thousands of options to determine the right one. “We think cosmetics are all about having fun,” says Brett Miller, general manager.

Much of the best beef goes to restaurants, and Allen Brothers has long been a supplier of U.S.D.A. prime beef to the restaurant industry. Its web site throws open the freezer door to individual consumers as well. has boosted site functionality and in particular imagery in a way that lures the online carnivore. An online shipping calendar gives customers quick information on when to expect delivery, but for questions on products or preparation, Allen Brothers also makes product specialists and chefs available via phone.

Chain drugstore Walgreen Co. just keeps finding new ways to wrap the web into its multi-channel strategy so as to sell more and improve customer service across channels. knits together the chain’s 5,000 stores-7,000 by 2010. For example, a new service with HP Snapfish allows shoppers to upload photos to for printing and output at any Walgreen’s store equipped for the service. also has strengthened its prescription tools, allowing customers to order new and refilled prescriptions for store pick up or mail delivery, and to view their prescription history securely online.

Getting shoppers to go to the web for groceries, medicines and cosmetics instead of piling into the car requires online retailers of food, drug and beauty products to offer an experience that measures up to, and even improves on the experience customers will have in the brick-and-mortar environment. That’s something this year’s category winners know, and deliver on.
Raising the steaks

Chicago-based Allen Brothers Inc. is a major source of U.S.D.A. Prime beef to steakhouses in the Windy City and beyond, a role it has maintained since 1893. “We’re high end, the top 15% choice,” CEO Todd Allen Hatoff says.

But Hatoff wants to be more than the invisible-to-consumers source of prime meat and seafood to pricey eateries. In a push to broaden Allen Brothers’ presence among consumers, he relaunched this year to better merchandise a broadened line including complete meals prepared by its own chefs. “We needed to take the site to the same level of our name,” he says. “Allen Brothers stands for premium products, but our old web site didn’t reflect that.”

Judging by the site’s new appearance and the comments it elicits from industry experts, has entered a new level of retail e-commerce worthy of a national brand. Its large, high-resolution images of steaks and other products load quickly, providing a real-life view not commonly found on other food sites. “Through the care they have taken on their mouth-watering product presentations, they have done a wonderful job of making me a believer that the quality of the product exists,” says Maris Dougherty, senior consultant at J.C. Williams Group.

Last year, Allen Brothers commissioned a complete re-design by Prominent Consulting, also in Chicago. Prominent deployed its own iChieve site merchandising software along with RichFX imaging and echoMountain application-serving infrastructure, providing for fast-loading, multiple views of high-resolution images that appear dynamically. For cross-selling purposes, for instance, the site lists supplementary products in order according to their recent popularity.

But isn’t all about image. A dynamically generated shipping calendar at the point of purchase gives shoppers up-to-the-minute information on when they can expect delivery.

As the new web site provides a means of whetting the appetites of consumers at less cost than Allen Brothers’ image-heavy catalog, Hatoff sees it cooking up a future in retail that will eventually include retail stores. “It’s one of our major engines for growth,” he says.
What the doctor ordered


Though it’s a national retail chain with more than 5,000 stores in 36 states, CVS Corp. is doing all the right things to make the next best thing to an old-fashioned corner drugstore. The site, which attracts about 1.3 million unique visitors per month, according to comScore Networks, has added several personalization features over the years that make one of the most frequented e-commerce sites in the online food and drug space.

The site carries off multi-channel retailing well. Visitors can click on and see digital versions of the chain’s weekly fliers that enable them to buy the same products online or in a nearby store. is also laid out much like an old-fashioned drugstore with a helpful pharmacist and clearly marked shopping aisles.

comments powered by Disqus




From The IR Blog


Anna Johansson / E-Commerce

Why is social proof big for niche brands?

A small online retailer that lacks brand recognition can get a big boost from high ...


Donn Davis / E-Commerce

Technology takeover: The fashion industry is next

We are now entering the third decade of the Amazon effect, and it is just ...

Research Guides