November 30, 2007, 12:00 AM

Computers/Electronics Figuring out needs and moving on

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Over 18 months leading up to the May relaunch, SonyStyle segmented different customer groups in its huge database and reached out to hundreds of thousands of customers through e-mail and phone interviews, call center contacts, and focus groups during the planning, testing and execution phases.

"It was more than a redesign. I call it Sony`s effort to listen to our consumers," vice president Brian Siegel says.

The new site offers an interactive wish list, product personalization options, and rich media technology that lets customers mouse over items on a product page to compare models and prices. Shoppers can e-mail product pages to friends. Checkout has been streamlined, and shoppers can store credit card information on the site and save products in their shopping cart for future visits.

The research effort is producing significant lifts across key measures, Siegel says, with overall sales performance up in the double digits and increases in customer satisfaction, time spent on site and number of page views.

The redesign also benefits from other intelligence gleaned in research: for example, SonyStyle reformatted all product pages for consistent placement of key information across categories, and it has realized an increase in the number of customers who shop multiple categories. Consumers want to see product, pricing and support information in the same place, Siegel notes. By serving that up in the redesign, SonyStyle has seen the number of product categories that a visitor views upon entering the site rise.

Gene Alvarez, vice president of retail e-commerce at Gartner Inc., says the site`s creative use of rich Internet applications and Web 2.0 technology is right on target for the brand. "A brand manufacturer has an image to portray," he says. "So when you`re image-oriented, like SonyStyle--`We`re cool, we`re innovative, our electronics are what you want`--having a site that has that coolness and innovation matches your brand." Back to Top

See for yourself
If you`re going to sell high-tech electronic products, you`d better give your customers the impression you`re up on the latest trends. Miami-based takes that to heart when it offers its customers not only the ability to see pictures of the product they might want to buy, but gives them an online video showing someone using it. has such videos available for more than 700 products. And unlike some other retail sites that offer videos of product demonstrations, TigerDirect shot the videos itself showing people using the product, rather than accepting stock videos from the manufacturers.

"We show how the product really works so that customers can actually live vicariously through others," says Lonny Paul, director of interactive marketing for, a subsidiary of Systemax Inc.

Indeed, product shots are also photos taken by in-house photographers. "We don`t use in-stock photos from the manufacturers," Paul says.

The advantage of taking photos and producing videos in-house is that "you really get to see the features of the product for comparison shopping purposes, whereas manufacturers` photos tend to show their brand more prominently than the product features," says Lee Diercks, managing director of Clear Thinking Group, a consulting firm.

Supplying the latest information about electronic items, rather than just supplying product descriptions from the manufacturers, is also part of the appeal of The site has a news sections that has been expanded so that customers can read independent product reviews, customer blogs and other articles related to products sold on the site.

And if the site seems busy, that`s because it is. crams a lot of product into a small space.

"They seem to have the deepest assortment of product of anyone out there," Diercks says. "Where they offer 40 different TVs in the 26- to 30-inch screen size, one of its top competitors offers 20 TVs." Still, TigerDirect has easy-to-use and highly focused internal search functions that let customers quickly sort through all those products to find what they want. Back to Top

The manufacturer`s pal doesn`t forget about its product manufacturers. By courting and working closely with manufacturers, some of which previously had been resistant to selling online, the site has not only been certified as an authorized Internet distributor for some elite brands, but it also has been able to conduct joint promotions with the manufacturers.

Dennis Boudreau, president, estimates he spends close to 60% of his time consulting with these vendors. But he believes it is time well spent. By being manufacturer-approved for sales on nearly all its products, customers get the full manufacturer warranty, something they don`t get at all electronics sites.

"When I first got into this business, there were a lot of manufacturers who said `no Internet.` What they did not understand is that their products were already being sold on the Internet, but by companies they had no control over. We had to educate them about the changing nature of Internet sales and how, by working with us, we can better represent their product," Boudreau says.

This relationship also allows Quincy, Ill.-based YourElectronicWarehouse to offer special items, such as custom-length cables from Monster Cable. Customers send in the measurement they want and the site will have Monster make a cable to fit. "About 18% to 20% of our Monster sales come from manufacturer leads," Boudreau says.

Some observers see this close relationship as a mixed blessing, however. "They have a strong focus on product knowledge and expertise," says Lee Diercks, managing director of Hills­borough, N.J.-based Clear Thinking Group. But by spending so much time with a limited group of select vendors, "their product is not as deep as some competitors," Diercks adds.

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