November 30, 2007, 12:00 AM

Computers/Electronics Figuring out needs and moving on

Quick is the operative word for many of the computers and electronics e-retailers in the Hot 100 retail web sites.

Dell Home & Home Office

In today`s world, computers and electronics are products that most consumers require, just as they need clothes, plates, light bulbs and hardware. Computers, though, are much more complex than a sweater or a hammer. As such, computer shopping is not easy for most consumers because they don`t have the technical expertise to make a quick decision on a product they require.

Quick is the operative word for many of the computers and electronics e-retailers in the Hot 100 retail web sites. The merchants` goal of late is to get customers the information they need and get them to checkout quickly so the customers can seal a deal and move on. introduced a site feature that asks shoppers questions about what they`re looking for, how they plan to use it, brand preference and price range to quickly narrow its list of 10,000 SKUs to a handful of products that best fit what shoppers need. The tool is so helpful and fast that sales associates use it to help customers in stores. soon will introduce a rich media virtual trade show to provide shoppers with a wealth of comprehensive technical information, and in a visually enticing manner. Today they boast a shopping experience that can get customers to the product they`re looking for in as few as four clicks. Easy in, easy out.

Competitor did a complete redesign of its site this year with one overarching goal: Decrease the number of steps it takes for shoppers to find precisely what they`re looking for. The e-retailer used a variety of technologies behind the scenes that have reduced the number of steps it takes to get to the best products by 50%. also did a major site redesign this year to make the buying process more efficient as well as more enjoyable. To ensure the redesign was exactly what customers wanted, the web retailer surveyed hundreds of thousands of customers via e-mail and phone as it planned the new design. Now its site features product, pricing and support information all on the same page to give customers what they asked for and in a manner that requires the fewest clicks possible.

Remembering its roots
One of the toughest elements for any retailer to transfer from the store to the web is customer service. Known throughout the Chicago area for its attention to customer care, Glenview, Ill.-based Abt Electronics has brought that same level of service to the web.

At the heart of the retailer`s site is technology from Guidester Inc. that asks shoppers questions about the type of product they are looking for, how they intend to use it, brand preference, price range, etc., just like an in-store sales representative would. With each answer the number of SKUs per category is whittled down before the customer`s eyes, making it easier to zero in on the right product.

"Taking the time to discuss with the customer what they want in a product and show choices within those parameters is at the heart of what retail is all about," says Stephen Baker, vice president, industry analysis for NPD Group Inc., a Port Washington, N.Y.-based market research firm. "Good retailers like Abt are able to transfer that philosophy to any sales channel."

The decision to install Guidester was based on providing a way to sort through the more than 10,000 SKUs Abt offers. Guidester is such a powerful tool that Abt`s in-store sales representatives use it, according to Jon Abt, co-president of Abt Electronics. "Looking at hundreds of SKUs in a category can have shoppers asking `Where do I begin` and we didn`t want that," says Abt. "We want to replicate the in-store experience our sales representatives provide in guiding customers to the right product."

The same premium is placed on customer service, which is divided into sales and service, and delivered through live chat. As part of its post-sales care, Abt will set up service calls for customers living outside the Chicago area rather than direct them to the manufacturer. "We are known for service in Chicagoland but we want that same reputation out of state, which is why we go that extra mile," says Abt.

It is an old school approach to retailing that plays well on the web. Back to Top

Message to the faithful
Successful e-retailers know their customers and create a shopping environment that reflects the tastes and needs of those customers. In the world of consumer electronics, few e-retailers do it better than

Combining excellent use of multimedia and crisp imagery with product information, Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple Inc. has created a cutting edge destination site for aficionados of Apple products that make purchases easy.

What sets Apple apart from other manufacturer e-retail sites is its ability to communicate with the shopper. A video product tour of the latest Apple operating system is available on the home page and can be viewed on the shopper`s computer or downloaded to an iPod or desktop. The tour creates an interactive shopping experience that melds education with sales and marketing techniques.

"What does well is communicate with its customers from a sales and marketing perspective," says Stephen Baker, vice president, industry analysis for NPD Group Inc., a Port Washington, N.Y.-based market research firm. "A lot of shoppers coming to are pre-sold and intend to purchase so the site is more about the buying experience."

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