November 29, 2006, 12:00 AM


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“We’ve always been very customer service- and customer benefit-oriented, and this frames that up,” says senior director Andy Stevenson. Those tenets also support one of the industry’s largest databases on home and auto entertainment electronics, content shared with consumers through the Crutchfield Advisor site and in multiple locations and features on

“Their knowledge of their category is the brand,” says Lauren Freedman, president of The E-Tailing Group. “They want you to know they know their stuff.”
PCs to go

The computer is more heavily researched before purchase than many products, and today much of that research happens online. Dell Inc. knows that very well-in fact, it helped create this pattern by developing one of the most content-packed e-commerce sites online, and then making it easy to use.

Experience has taught the company that the web is the most efficient way for it to provide customers with an infinite combination of products and services and the tools to help them make choices. “The value proposition online is in how user-friendly, informative and efficient it is for our customers to research and buy products and receive service afterwards should they want it,” says Kurt Kirsch, director of online consumer and employee purchase programs.

Expanded functionality helps ensure a continued leadership position in the highly-competitive online retail marketplace for computers as well as the home entertainment equipment used with them. Assisted navigation added this year helps customers better browse while a new “SuperConfigurator” further streamlines the process of assembling a personalized system.

Dell also is leveraging the web not only to inform customers and guide them through a potentially challenging purchase process but also to give them a public voice and strengthen their connections with Dell and each other. A customer testimonial feedback section in the home and home office section lets customers share experiences with Dell and other consumers; a new feature on product pages lets customers rate and review items online.

Further, the company has a new blog,, and syndicates blog postings and more on some 20 RSS feeds. The new Dell Community forum is evolving to connect visitors with the same interests, initially focusing on gaming, digital life and those in need of help with tech issues.

“Dell has done a really outstanding job of simplifying what could be a complex process for the customers to build their own PC,” says Chad Doiron, strategist in the Internet practice of Kurt Salmon Associates. “It makes it intuitive and straightforward. And with so many choices they do a great job of cross-checking and reconciling all the options.”
The go-to site for gamers

The world of the video game retailer is one of great complexity. First there’s the technology: video games come in a wide array of formats for an ever increasing number of platforms: Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 3, Xbox360 and PC Games, to name just a few. Then there’s the type of game: action, puzzle, racing, role playing, sports, fantasy and many others. Then throw in the different age groups and sexes.

Meeting these needs is a formidable challenge, and is meeting the challenge-and then some. Operated by GameStop Corp., the world’s largest video game retailer, sells new and used titles ranging from “Tiger Woods Golf” to “Archlord: The Legend of Chantra.” It also sells hardware and accessories for game systems.

Trying to navigate a site selling so many different products can be tricky, but GameStop makes it easy for customers by giving them the option of searching by platform, says Shari Altman, president of consulting firm Altman Dedicated Direct. “The first thing is on what platform are you going to be playing your game,” she says. “Once you choose any one of those, it’s almost like there’s another little store that’s just Xbox stuff or Nintendo.”

However, the home page navigation doesn’t give customers the option of searching by different types of games, Altman says. “Maybe it’s because no one thinks like that in this niche, but it seems odd to me that you couldn’t get there either way.”

Another flaw, Altman contends, is that doesn’t have a Buy Now button until the customer drills down to the individual item. “A lot of games can be very popular, people already know what they are, they might be shopping on price,” she says. “Why make them click to more information. If you’re going to show a picture of something you can buy right there, why not let me buy it?”

But is unique from other e-retailers in the volume of customer reviews and ratings posted on their site, Altman adds. “You can sit and read through 10 or 12 different reviews on a product.”
Manhattan star

Since Joe and Rachelle Friedman founded J&R; Electronics in 1971, they’ve remained closely involved with the day-to-day details that have made their 200,000-square-foot store a retail landmark in New York City.

Joe still walks the sales floor every day to talk with customers and employees, learning first hand what it takes to keep shoppers coming back. Located in lower Manhattan, the store is frequented by Wall Street analysts researching trends in consumer electronics as well as by celebrities of film and politics.

Yet for all its big-city fame, J&R; has shunned expanding its market through other stores-eyeing its growth instead through

The site builds on the store’s reputation with a home-page link to its blog, visitors can read ramblings on the latest electronics technology by J&R; employees along with reports of in-store appearances by celebrities.

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