November 29, 2006, 12:00 AM


Sales of computers and electronics account for a major piece of the e-commerce pie. There are myriad sellers in this category, and merchants that want to rise to the top have to undertake significant efforts that help keep their brands in consumers’ heads and make their sites as informative and easy to use as possible.

Internet Retailer Best of the Web 2007

Sales of computers and electronics account for a major piece of the e-commerce pie. There are myriad sellers in this category, and merchants that want to rise to the top have to undertake significant efforts that help keep their brands in consumers’ heads and make their sites as informative and easy to use as possible. In computers and electronics, customer loyalty is critical.

Because computers and electronics are far more complex than teddy bears or flowers, providing practical, understandable product information is important. TigerDirect Inc.’s vice president of creative Dan Brown, for example, is most concerned about conversions: not just converting shoppers into buyers but converting buyers into loyal customers. So his team routinely works to develop creative content for, building significantly on a base of specs and product information it receives from manufacturers. And they’re adding new content from some 40 manufacturers, enriched by technology provider WebCollage Inc.

J&R; Electronics Inc. also wants to give its online customers much more. Late this year it began migrating its handsome and practical site to a new e-commerce platform, which will support hundreds of online videos of J&R;’s store salespeople explaining the intricacies of consumer electronics products, bringing information to life. “This will bring one of our greatest assets, our sales people, to the web,” a company spokesperson says.

It’s one thing to have an abundance of information; it’s another thing to be able to find it. Like J&R; Electronics, has placed a premium on enabling shoppers to very quickly get to specific information, of which has the proverbial tons. A shopper who hits the home page of immediately receives lists of clear, simple choices to help him decide how to begin drilling down.

From there it’s the very same method with each successive drill that gives the shopper ease and confidence while finding precisely what he wants in mobile technology. “The company deserves credit for this,” says Sucharita Mulpuru, senior retail analyst at Forrester Research Inc., “because few manufacturers are as skilled as Palm when it comes to navigating a site.”
Blue-shirt service

The retailer to beat in consumer electronics is often Best Buy Co. Inc., whose more than 900 stores entice, entertain and educate shoppers with extensive product displays and a helpful team of “blue-shirt” sales associates. Best Buy duplicates much of that experience-and adds more-online at For the fourth year in a row, Best Buy’s online store has been named to Internet Retailer’s Best of the Web Top 50 list of online retailers. emphasizes customer service by placing toll-free numbers on each page along with a click-to-call option to request a call from an agent. It also plays up friendly images of its blue-shirt store associates, leaving no doubt that it’s backed by the same service customers expect in stores.

This year Best Buy has expanded its online offerings in both products and service. It introduced with Velocity Micro, a manufacturer of high-performance gaming PCs, the ability for online shoppers to customize a PC to their particular gaming needs. Shoppers link from to a Velocity Micro site to customize their PC, then click back to Best Buy to complete the purchase.

Best Buy also launched its own online music store powered by RealNetworks Inc.’s Rhapsody music service. Unlike most digital music stores, offers shoppers the choice of downloading individual songs for 99 cents each or subscribing to a monthly service of unlimited music access for $14.99.

One area where could improve, however, is in playing up these and other services on its home page, which emphasizes pricing deals but leaves much of its shopping assistance features on its internal pages, says Colleen Coleman, an affiliate of retail consultants McMillan/Doolittle. “They should hit shoppers on the home page with a message about how to choose a TV, for instance, making a balanced statement between ‘We have good pricing’ and ‘We can help you choose good products,’” she says.

But Best Buy continues to successfully move forward with sales and online innovation. In a new twist on customer service, for example, Best Buy now lets shoppers submit rebate forms online instead of through the mail-a feature that not only saves customers time and postage but gives them another reason to visit
A drive to succeed

Don’t mess with success, the saying goes. With monthly traffic now grown to 3 million visits,, the online arm of auto and home consumer electronics cataloger Crutchfield, knows not to tinker with its winning formula of extensive product knowledge and top-notch customer service-except to keep burnishing it to even higher levels of performance.

Take two new applications developed by Crutchfield this year. Digital Drive-Thru extends Crutchfield’s knowledge base and customer service into new territory that mirrors consumers’ love affair with iPods by answering the question of how best to hook one up with their car’s sound system. Visitors using the online tool type in their iPod model-whether they already own it or want to purchase it on the site-and the make and model of their vehicle. They get recommendations on products and installation geared toward the combination that produces the best sound quality. To make that determination, Crutchfield leverages its extensive pool of product specifications as well as knowledge amassed internally over the years on in-car sound quality.

The concept builds on “What Fits My Car,” the still-popular tool launched online in 1999 that guides purchase decisions on the aftermarket installation of in-car audio equipment. In fact, the tools leverage the same underlying technology. So does another feature, an online TV Fit Finder-new this year-that juggles product dimensions to guide shoppers to the TVs that will fit into their existing home entertainment system furniture-or which furniture will hold their existing TV. To that selection Crutchfield now offers an expanded range of home theater furniture in partnership with furniture manufacturers.

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