November 29, 2006, 12:00 AM


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“It’s a way to narrow the product offerings,” Moore says. “Because we have so many products, it’s nice to be able to look at what you’re really specifically interested in.”

By offering the two ways to search, makes it easier for shoppers to zero in on what they’re looking for, says Shari Altman, president of consulting firm Altman Dedicated Direct. “Everything is clearly displayed,” she says. “They do a really nice job of that.”

Shoppers can search by keyword or catalog number and contact customer service via live chat, click to call or e-mail. And its customer service representatives are knowledgeable riders who can speak from experience.

Dover also prides itself on being “The Source” of information on all things equestrienne. Products are selected by a team of experienced riders who understand the needs of riders and horses. The site also offers riding and training tips written by experts in the field, a web-only feature.

Another feature that helps Dover Saddlery stand out from the herd is the “Test Ride a Saddle” feature, Altman says. “These kinds of web tools help sales for products that are costly and that involve the need for something to fit, feel right and look right,” she says.
A noisier site

Enabling customers to click on the image of a dog toy to hear the sound it makes may not seem like much to many shoppers. But many shoppers don’t have animal companions. And people with pets are a whole different breed of consumer.

Making its toys come to life online is just one example of the lengths goes to so pet owners can find the right products. “It helps recreate the hands-on kind of experience you get in a retail store,” says Pat Heerey, director of creative services.

Putting toy sound effects on is one small part of the merchant’s underlying philosophy-enabling customers to take good care of their pets. From its beginnings as a cataloger in 1983, the pet supplier has devoted at least 10% of catalog and web site space to articles on pet care ranging from how to trim a cat’s nails to how to prevent heart worms, says Gordon Magee, Internet marketing and analysis manager.

That content enables DrsFosterSmith to really serve their market niche, says Shari Altman, president of consulting firm Altman Dedicated Direct. “They have extensive information-they’ve got a whole site on pet education,” she says. “They really serve the customer both from the products as well as the background information.”

In addition to developing creative ways to present products, the pet supplier revamped its site search feature so that it takes fewer clicks for customers to find what they want, says Jason Coe, director of Internet technology. The pet supplier has a broad product line, ranging from pharmaceutical products to supplies for animals as diverse as dogs, reptiles, fish and birds.

The home page has navigation categories at the top and bottom, with the bottom categories featuring pictures of animal groups, which makes it easier for customers to search the site, Altman says. “It shouldn’t be hard for somebody to get deep into this site. It draws them in one way or another.” also revamped all of its images, both in quality and size. “We’re constantly making small improvements to the site-sometimes daily,” Coe says. “You might not see one big change overnight, but there are many, many constant changes going on in the background.”
Think like a customer

The advent of the web has commoditized the auto parts and accessories marketplace, making it a challenge to stand out when the same items are available at another site. But has seen double-digit conversion rates by viewing this issue from a different perspective than its own: the customer’s.

That view underlies a site redesign that went up in May. “This is the year our site finally reflects our company’s customer-centric orientation,” says vice president of e-commerce Geoffrey Robertson. With stiff competition online and offline, knowing the customer and designing a site that anticipates his thinking has brought increased success. For example, the redesign brings to the fore a key differentiator between J.C. Whitney and competitors: one of the largest in-stock positions in the industry. But significantly, the site tells customers not only how soon products will be delivered but also the facts when delivery dates will be far off.

“We were able to accentuate our strength, but by showing you everything, the good and the bad, it creates more trust in the company,” Robertson says. Ditto the effects of putting customer reviews on the site this year. “We’ll show you a five-star rating, but if there is a one- or two-star rating, we’ll show you that, too,” he says.

The reviews aren’t the only way J.C. Whitney is giving customers a voice on the site. In a massive data clean-up of product specs and descriptions undertaken this year, Robertson and his team created a site feature on product pages that asks visitors for comments on product descriptions and product images, gathering data on copy or images customers find inaccurate or confusing. As a result, the company has updated hundreds of thousands of product images and tens of thousands of product specs on the site.

The comments, which customers can submit in a box that opens up when they click a link on a product page, go right into a workflow process on the back end. “Because we’ve made it super simple, we get a lot of feedback,” Robertson says. “The customer response has been phenomenal.”
Crazy community

When a retailer has Sir Winston Churchill answering its phone lines, a shopper might question the sanity of the merchant’s executives. And that’s exactly how the execs at Moosejaw Mountaineering like it.

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