November 29, 2006, 12:00 AM

Mass Merchants/Department Stores

Plain and simple, the Top 50 online mass merchants are very good at what they do. In the age of web retailing specialization, the trend is toward finding a niche and sticking with it. To be almost all things to all shoppers yet still deliver a superior customer experience, online mass merchants must constantly innovate.

Internet Retailer Best of the Web 2007

Plain and simple, the Top 50 online mass merchants are very good at what they do. In the age of web retailing specialization, the trend is toward finding a niche and sticking with it. To be almost all things to all shoppers yet still deliver a superior customer experience, online mass merchants must constantly innovate.

This year’s top 50 mass merchandise sites are no exception. continues to set the trend for what a mass merchandise site should be. For instance, tagging, an online activity that arose with consumer-generated media, is getting official recognition from The retailer has borrowed from the concept to create a new Search Suggestions feature aimed at helping shoppers find on what they are looking for. The program gives users a means of submitting recommendations for connecting a product to specific keywords, along with an explanation of why the connection is relevant. Once approved by Amazon, the product and the relevancy explanation appear in search results the next time a user searches under those keywords., a pioneer in marrying social networking and e-commerce, is now among the first merchants to introduce video product reviews. J.C. Penney has become a $1 billion web retailer in part by constantly developing new digital innovations such as its interactive window treatment center that enables customers to mix, match and layer window treatments and preview how different styles and colors will look in their homes.

The Top 50 mass merchandise retailers know who their customers are and what they want., which expects to generate $1 billion in online sales in 2007, recently expanded its sporting goods, housewares, baby, and gourmet food categories and launched a new business products program with thousands of items. Smart Bargains relaunched its site in September with a new logo, a new tagline-“Your personal bargain hunter”-and a new site experience.

When it comes to succeeding in this category, Smart Bargains vice president of marketing Mark McWeeny puts it well: “We want to exceed customer expectations every time.”
Size and skill

In a nutshell, just keeps getting bigger and better.

Having originally honed its science and art on books, music and movies, has branched out so far that it defies categorization. A department store? Maybe, but one that has its own video show, “Amazon Fishbowl with Bill Maher,” and gives floor space to a travel agent,, and a financial services advisor, Fidelity Investments. What Minnesota’s Mall of America did years ago to the United States is what is doing today: it’s the Mall of the Known Universe. It is providing the operational underpinnings for a never-ending stream of partner stores, as well as making its own forays into groceries, movie downloads, jewelry and, to put it mildly, more.

Not only does the whole site function like clockwork, but the abundant features, which could be cluttered and distracting in lesser hands, work together to enhance the customer experience. In fact, the site does very well at letting the customers do the selling. There’s Listmania, where customers post their “Best of ...” lists, for example. And of course there’s Amazon’s longstanding product review feature, which has set the industry standard.

Whatever a customer buys, whenever they buy it, Amazon remembers and is right there with in-kind recommendations whenever a customer drops in. If they wander off-target over time-if, say, a customer’s juvenile reader has moved on to Harry Potter and no longer needs those “I Can Read” titles-the customer can visit “Improve Your Recommendations” to set things straight.

The company’s tremendous cross-selling capabilities boost its sales. Seeing what else was purchased by fellow customers for a given item can lead a shopper far afield from his original quest to things he didn’t even know he wanted.

In a newer feature, Amazon connects readers and authors through Plogs, or personal collections of blogs, where customers can read blog entries from, for example, authors whose books they’ve purchased. After all, who better to sell a Stephen King book than Stephen King?
Buying trends

In a fast-changing environment like the Internet, one of the most difficult challenges is deciding when to go with new technologies and retailing strategies and when to hold back and wait for others to forge ahead. Making the wrong choice can result in over-spending on new-fangled things without a ready customer base-or missing out on profitable new opportunities before losing ground to competitors., a general merchandise pure-play e-retailer, is forging ahead on the leading edge in areas such as social networking and Internet TV and, at the same time, improving its income levels.

BuyTV, its new interactive online video program, features consumer products, online games, music and movies, plus interviews with Hollywood celebrities. “We believed that if consumers were increasingly seeking their entertainment online, that e-commerce needed to take the next step in its advancement as well,” says CEO Neel Grover.

Buy also makes it easy to choose particular segments in the videos and click to buy one of the featured products, says Keven Wilder, owner of Chicago-based retail consultants Wilder Inc. “Coupling an infomercial with an opportunity to buy the featured products online is a formidable combination,” she says.

In addition, the appearance of Buy founder and chairman Scott Blum pitching products in the videos helps to personalize the shopping experience, Wilder says. Throughout other sections of, the retailer also provides a split-screen checkout process that shows a shopping cart’s ingredients on one side with offers for extended warranties and a private label credit card on the other.

Buy also has partnered with Grouper Networks Inc. to offer a video-sharing service that lets online visitors create, upload and share videos of themselves reviewing products sold on

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