Target and Toys R Us posted overall sales declines during the holidays.
Back in the day, books and CDs were the products that pioneered e-retailing. Because retailers of these products generally have been selling for longer periods than many other merchants, they have always had a leg-up when it comes to innovating web site design and functionality. Today they continue to march forward, but some of these e-retailers are marching at a faster pace—and as such easily staying ahead of the pack.
Internet Retailer Best of the Web 2007
Back in the day, books and CDs were the products that pioneered e-retailing. Because retailers of these products generally have been selling for longer periods than many other merchants, they have always had a leg-up when it comes to innovating web site design and functionality. Today they continue to march forward, but some of these e-retailers are marching at a faster pace-and as such easily staying ahead of the pack.
Abebooks.com marched way ahead of the pack this year by investing in a social networking site that today links social networkers at LibraryThing.com with the products and content on Abebooks.com. Social networking is a wholly unproven marketing tactic for e-commerce-and basically any industry. But Abebooks.com executives believe this kind of use of a social network will pay off.
Ahead of the game as always, Apple’s iTunes this year leapt into downloadable movies, a product for which demand in the United States is at best difficult to measure. As part of the launch of iTunes 7, the newly redesigned version of the iTunes online store, the company now offers movies.
And on the subject of film, movie master Netflix also is way out in front in the Books/CDs/DVDs category, making great strides with the technique of personalization. Netflix is one of the true innovators when it comes to merchandising and selling in a way that is unique to each customer. And this year it decided to innovate the art of personalization even more. Surprising many industry observers, Netflix decided that to make its personalization tactics even better it would turn to its customers for help. In an open competition it calls Netflix Prize, Netflix will award $1 million to the first person or team that can develop a new personalization engine that will improve the accuracy of its movie recommendations by at least 10%.
After achieving 247.5% sales growth in 2005, SimplyAudiobooks.com this year pushed hard to increase the efficacy of its marketing and conversion efforts by 50% in order to continue its considerable growth. The company now is using landing pages more effectively, says Sanjay Singhal, vice president of marketing, bringing pay-per-click bid management in-house and creating multiple domains that specialize in each of its product lines.
Searching and socializing
A bibliophile hears about a book on Zen Buddhism and meditation that intrigues him but doesn’t know the title or any other specific information, except that the author might be Korean. Hearing of his plight, some might say, “Good luck.” But not Abe.
The content-rich and uncluttered Abebooks.com provides the tools and the people to help anyone try to find a book-whether the searcher knows a lot or little about it. The e-retailer’s powerful site search and drill-down technologies and techniques help shoppers dig their way through the merchant’s pile of 100 million books. And if a shopper simply has too little to go on, he can get a little help from some friends in trying to find the needle in the haystack.
Earlier this year Abebooks.com made a significant investment in LibraryThing.com, a social networking site for book lovers. Since then the e-retailer has been creating links between the two sites to bring more bibliophiles together and get more of them to search for and purchase used and rare tomes. So if the shopper looking for the Buddhism book gets profoundly stuck because of his lack of information, he can send out an all-points bulletin to LibraryThing social networkers, many of whom may be able to help in the hunt.
“We’re really in the search business; we’re about finding a unique book,” says Boris Wertz, COO at Abebooks Inc. “And making it easier to find books on our site beyond using the search tool is a major goal of ours.”
LibraryThing is a fantastic tool for avid book readers and collectors and may be even more sophisticated than the community features of “the Big Kahuna” of online bookselling, Amazon.com, says Sucharita Mulpuru, senior retail analyst at Forrester Research Inc. “The tags seem more relevant,” she adds, “and the lists seem more germane to book lovers than the random lists that often show up on other user-generated content sites.”
No one trick pony
Keeping pace with the rapid evolution of iPod technology is no easy task for even the most devoted iPod user, but iTunes.com makes it look like child’s play. The iPod has essentially become a hardware platform for iTunes, which in turn makes the digital entertainment retailer a content engine for iPod users. Podcasts, television shows, music, games, audiobooks, and movies can all be downloaded from the iTunes store to an iPod.
“From a merchandising perspective, iTunes evolves with the expanding capabilities of the iPod,” says Patti Freeman Evans, senior analyst, retail industry for JupiterResearch. “iTunes is the store where iPod users go to get content.”
Increasingly much of that content is becoming more targeted to specific consumer segments to coincide with the multitude of iPods and their varying capabilities. In September, the National Football League announced it had reached a deal to download highlights from individual regular games. Shoppers can purchase a single game for $1.99 or buy a season pass for $24.99, which entitles them to have game clips from their favorite teams automatically downloaded to their iPods.
“When there are iPods that can help runners track their pace and mileage, the merchandising around this platform has to be pretty sophisticated,” says Freeman Evans.
As iconic as the iPod has become, iTunes is more than a one-trick pony as a retailer. One area where iTunes has excelled is cross-channel marketing. The October announcement that Starbucks’ Hear Music catalog is available at the iTunes store is a perfect example of iTunes’ cross-channel marketing prowess. The deal is expected to drive significant traffic from Starbucks customers who hear a song from the Hear Music catalog and want to download it. Starbucks typically displays the CD playing in its outlets as a way to promote in-store CD sales.