November 29, 2006, 12:00 AM


(Page 5 of 5)

How do you fit a horse, a dog, a cat, a ferret and a bird in one shopping cart? By creating a common cart that enables one to visit each of the animals’ e-commerce habitats and select and purchase products via the lone cart.

This is just one example-which the company currently is assembling-of how PetsUnited LLC continues to ramp up its business, which includes a growing number of individual animal sites. And it strides forward with new e-commerce sites, product offerings and online functionality based on the input of customers. “Our customers continue to react very favorably to our ongoing efforts to give them exactly what they ask for,” says PetsUnited CFO Chris Van Doren. “We have a dedicated team of staff members working on an ongoing basis to recategorize aspects of the web sites, add new categories and make more changes based on our customers’ wants and needs.”

The e-retailer links individual sites under the PetsUnited umbrella. It offers plenty of practical content for customers, who have myriad questions and concerns about their animal companions. And the sites build communities via forums that unite dog lovers, horse lovers and others with the common aim of ensuring the health and well-being of their animals.

“Each of the company’s sites display a mastery of their subject matter and the fundamentals of crisp, clear e-commerce,” says Maris Daugherty, senior consultant at J.C. Williams Group Ltd. “The expansive selection of targeted pet products and enhanced content combined with clearly displayed stock availability and helpful online communities project that the pet lover is in the right place to shop with confidence.”

PetsUnited, however, is not resting on its laurels-it is striving to improve upon its already effective e-commerce sites. It is seeking, ahem, purrfection. “We’re not satisfied with where we’re at, and we probably never will be,” Van Doren says. “Doing well in e-commerce means continually fine-tuning sites and operations based on the precise desires of the customers.”
Sporting bargains

The Sportsman’s Guide knows what its customers want, and it’s not frou-frou or gimmicks. It’s a tent, or boots, or a paintball gun. Or maybe the Kill It and Grill It hunter’s cookbook, by rock star and sportsman Ted Nugent. The site is filled with discounted clothing and equipment for camping, hunting, archery, boating, snowmobiling, hiking and fishing. No matter what you’re shopping for, plenty of pull-down menus quickly narrow your search. If you have a paper catalog (which has served outdoor types since 1976), the “catalog quick order” feature is, as promised, very quick. The whole operation is designed to get you equipped and on your way.

Unless you want to hang around and read. There’s a plethora of very targeted and useful content: Links to hunting and fishing license information at every state’s department of natural resources; government tide tables; recipes (anyone for Fiery Fiesta Venison Skillet?). The “Quick Links” section lets users pick their area of interest, (say, small game/varmint hunting or mountain biking) and choose “adventures,” “gear,” or “tips.” Hunters can browse ballistics or arrow-shaft charts to make sure they’re ordering the correct ammunition for their firearm or bow.

The outdoor goods category is packed with multi-channel retailers like Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops. Without a brick-and-mortar component, The Sportsman’s Guide has to work harder, and it does. “It’s not a pretty site,” says retail consultant Jim Okamura, senior partner at J.C. Williams Group, Chicago. “It’s built for commerce. It’s got great selection and national brand affiliations at a fair price. They have really leveraged their direct marketing experience.”

A Buyers’ Club, at $30 a year, gives members a 10% discount on everything except ammunition, plus special catalogs, a dedicated customer service phone line, and the option of stretching payments over four months interest free.

The Sportsman’s Guide and its sister site The Golf Warehouse were recently acquired by Redcats USA, a catalog and online marketer of apparel and home products.

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