November 30, 2007, 12:00 AM

Flowers/Gifts/JewelryShoppers buying bouquets and diamonds need help

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"Mobile e-cards and the options to upload photos or videos and edit messages to personalize them will put a smile on the face of the technically savvy shopper," says Maris Daugherty, senior consultant for J.C. Williams Group. "Plus, not having to click through on the thumbnail to see the greeting is a real timesaver."

On the customer service side, outlines steps for shoppers on how to identify and protect their computers from e-card spam that contain links to illegitimate sites.

Overall, provides something for everyone. "There is so much going on that grabs the shopper`s attention," says Lanae Paaverud, a board member of the Internet Merchants Association, a Wellington, Fla.-based non-profit trade association for e-commerce companies. "It`s always fun to shop there." Back to Top

Shines like a jewel
As an e-commerce success story, sparkles as brilliantly as the more than 70,000 diamonds it sells.

Sales at the fine jewelry web site increased 24% last year to more than $250 million. Seattle-based Blue Nile Inc. has become such a force in the online jewelry industry that it might even be affecting the way bricks-and-mortar jewelers conduct their business.

"They`ve single-handedly revolutionized the jewelry business," says Jim Okamura, senior partner with Chicago-based retail consultants J.C. Williams Group Ltd. "They are one of the best models of how an electronic retailer has really made the traditional retailer sit up and take notice. They have developed a strong brand and an efficient operation that has been able to build upon their growth and momentum."

The company says it surpassed Tiffany this year in bridal and engagement sales.

Blue Nile officials keep tweaking the site to make it better. They recently launched a redesign emphasizing education and guidance, according to Darrell Cavens, the online retailer`s senior vice president.

"We`re trying to mesh shopping and education together more," Cavens explains. "We want to make sure that we provide guidance to help customers really understand the purchasing experience around this product."

Education is particularly important because most of Blue Nile`s customers are men. "The traditional jewelry-buying experience is really pretty intimidating," says Cavens. "They want to make a smart decision and not just plop their money down on the first thing on the shelf."

Blue Nile makes the experience less intimidating by presenting a clean home page that lets users select the jewelry or gemstone they want through a scroll-down pad. One of six tabs atop the page is "Education" where visitors can a find primer on whatever jewel or stone piques their shopping curiosity. That education tab also appears on every page a shopper visits.

The site lets shoppers personalize and build their own rings and recently began offering free overnight delivery on all purchases.

"They have to be wowed," Cavens says of the Blue Nile`s customers. "We`re trying to create those `wow` moments." Back to Top

Delighting shoppers
E-retailers of gift baskets need to offer something special to lure shoppers out of the store and onto their site. Port Washington, N.Y.-based Delightful delivers the goods through improved site navigation and customer reviews.

The company improved site navigation and added customer reviews as part of a redesigned site launched in September. The new site features wider pages allowing for more room to showcase the variety of products and price ranges. Shoppers can also drill down within categories by price, dietary restrictions, brand or occasion.

"Showing a wide variety of products and price points makes shoppers feel more comfortable that there is something on the site for them," says Lanae Paaverud, a board member of the Internet Merchants Association, a Wellington, Fla.-based non-profit trade association for e-commerce companies.

Other improvements include a more intuitive checkout page that shows arrival times and the cost for items to be shipped immediately or on a future date. Plans are in the works to enhance the feature by linking shipping specials for orders that ship locally out of one of the company`s three distribution centers. "If the product can be shipped locally next day, we want people to know so they can save on next day shipping costs," says Eric Lituchy, CEO of Delightful Deliveries Inc.

Adding customer reviews has generated a 20% increase in conversion rates for items rated with four or five stars, the latter being the highest rating. Products are rated on appearance, flavor, freshness, quality and value. Reviews are solicited from the gift giver and the gift recipient. "We`ve removed products because of bad reviews," says Lituchy.

To further differentiate itself, is preparing an m-commerce site. "M-commerce is where e-retailing is moving for young adults and retailers that want to successfully reach this demographic ought to be running to this technology, because the phone is their technology of choice," says Pat Johnson, partner with Seattle-based Outcalt & Johnson Retail Strategists LLC.

When it comes to offering shoppers something extra, Delightful Deliveries has shown it has hit its stride. Back to Top

Gifts under the tree
Wine aficionados base their purchase in part on being able to describe the flavors and aromas, i.e. the nose and bouquet of the wine. Since e-retailers of wine can`t offer a tasting session on their sites, the next best thing is to describe the wine in detail and present a high quality image of the wine itself. has combined detailed notes on the wines in its gift basket with rich media images of the bottles to create an environment that captures the spirit of a wine tasting.

The approach is rooted in the concept that shoppers want high quality information and presentation of gift items for which they are paying a premium. That is important since`s customers tend to be busy, affluent, image-conscious individuals. As a result, Vancouver, Wash.-based emphasizes style and sophistication in its site design.

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