November 30, 2007, 12:00 AM

Mass Merchants/Department Stores Helping shoppers through a massive...

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Customers can more easily see the status of an order and view and pay bills online. They can e-mail gift cards good in stores and online, and personalize gift cards with photos they upload to the site. A 600,000-square-foot distribution center dedicated to efficiently fulfilling online and catalog sales opened this year in Portland, Tenn.

Macy`s has added products to the site, including mattresses and furniture. When Martha Stewart unveiled a new collection this fall available exclusively at Macy`s, the site featured a video of Stewart introducing the collection. And a Macy`s-exclusive product mentioned on the Martha Stewart site now can be easily purchased by clicking on a link to

" is a very clean, well designed site that brings together an awful lot of products in a very well-organized fashion," says Steve Rowen, a partner at RSR Research. "It`s far and away the easiest large format department store site to navigate."

The site also has many useful features, such as one that lets visitors sort bedding collections by color. "That`s a tremendous timesaving tool," Rowen says. "It`s an enjoyable site to shop." Back to Top

The niche expert
NetShops Inc. operates more than 200 web sites, each with a narrow specialty, such as Adirondack chairs, bocce ball sets or trailer hitches. Because a bocce enthusiast is likely to be quite different from someone seeking a trailer hitch, each site is designed individually, says Jason Goldberger, chief merchandising officer at the company based in Omaha, Neb.

"We take each web site, define who the customer is and how they want to make their purchase, and design the web site around that," Goldberger says.

At the company`s original site, (motto: Accomplish nothing), the focus is on photos showing what the hammocks look like and how many people each can hold. But at, bird watchers or astronomy buffs can find the technical specifications they may want.

Customers trying to decide between two items can see them side by side by checking boxes next to each item and hitting a Compare button. Product reviews are displayed--pans as well as raves.

Goldberger believes wide selection is the key to meeting customers` needs and the company has added thousands of SKUs across its sites this year, he says. alone has increased its offerings by 20%.

The home page makes it easy to drill down to product one wants from all the company`s sites, says Chris Vicente, senior manager in the retail practice at consulting firm BearingPoint. And he likes the link for businesses seeking volume discounts.

He especially likes a feature called Shop Together, introduced in October, that lets two customers jointly explore the site from separate computers. "My sister lives in Los Angeles and I could envisage sending her a Shop Together link, looking at items together and asking her, `Does this make sense for our cousin?`" Vicente says.

"The concept of social networking and e-commerce is exciting to people, but it`s too soon to tell how successful it`s been," Goldberger says. Besides allowing two shoppers to compare notes, he says customer service representatives also can shop along with a customer who calls with questions. Back to Top

Easy hunting

For shoppers, finding the right item at the best price is the primary goal. And Overstock makes bargain hunting quick and easy by offering multiple options for browsing and search--such as Clearance Bin and Steals of the Week--on the upper right corner of the home page. It also posts shopping recommendations for featured products. has used web analytics to find the best approach to attract shoppers and boost sales. It modified page design and produced an increase in products added to shopping carts after using analytics data to view how shoppers clicked through product pages. realized that product pages forced shoppers to scroll down to the bottom half of the pages to get the information they needed to make a purchase decision--a design that caused many shoppers to move on without carting products. By moving that information above the fold of the page, Overstock experienced a 5% lift in the number of products added to shopping carts.

"Overstock is terrific at testing new ways of targeting customers," says Patti Freeman Evans, senior analyst-retail at JupiterResearch. "They endeavor to be relevant based on a number of inputs, for example, both e-mail and home page visuals are prioritized in some test groups to be driven from past browsing behavior of that customer."

But Overstock doesn`t rely on page design alone to attract shoppers. It is moving into mobile commerce with a free e-mail reminder service known as O-minders and a program known as Mobile O that lets customers shop the whole site from a mobile phone. It also offers a rewards program.

Overstock also has introduced a new community feature called Omuse, which lets readers help populate various how-to guides. At the same time, it feeds back to merchandising by running contextual ads in the form of product listings from the site alongside the contributed content. For example, links to products such as golf books and golf gear are listed next to a guide to buying a golf bag. Back to Top

Shop for fun
The typical customer of is a relatively affluent mother between the ages of 30 and 55. When the site asked its customers what they wanted, they said convenience--and something less expected.

"Our audience was telling us they wanted some place that was fun and vibrant," says Mondy Beller, senior vice president of marketing for the Monterey, Calif.-based retailer. "We took that information and redesigned our web site." gave personality to the object of its redesign efforts by visualizing a fictional woman shopper named Megan. Everything was done with Megan in mind.

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