November 30, 2007, 12:00 AM

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

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The site added more color, according to Beller, brightening the look in a way that research showed would appeal to Megan--and other women.

"The graphics are nice," says Gene Alvarez, a vice president at Gartner, Inc., a technology research and consulting firm. He adds that the redesign also makes shopping easy. added games to keep loyal customers coming back, and to win new ones. In a daily "cart-me-away" game, contestants read a story, then are given a list of related items and asked to select products from that list whose prices add up to a given dollar amount. Prizes are awarded each day--$20 or $50 coupons. At the conclusion of a contest`s run, typically four weeks, an overall winner gets $10,000 in credits to spend at Beller says more than 50,000 shoppers compete, and the numbers are escalating.

In a seasonal game, contestants submit Scrooge stories. The winner receives a pair of diamond earrings. also invites visitors to make online donations to the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

The web site has a begun a relationship with FaceBook, enabling shoppers to share with friends what they bought on as well as activities, such as their donations to Make-a-Wish.

Customers can sign up for two weekly e-mail newsletters, one apprising them of shopping trends and the other promoting hot deals. A new blog informs shoppers of cool products that are available.

The new features, says Beller, "make the site really fun and more exciting and give the customer a reason to come back every day." Back to Top

Convergence ahead
With its roots in televised home shopping shows, was a natural to lead in the use of video online. More than 30% of the items on the site feature 30-second to 1-minute video demonstrations, and customers who watch them convert at twice the rate as other visitors to the site, says Geoff Smith, vice president of Internet.

"That`s a really innovative feature," says Chris Vicente, senior retail practice manager at consulting firm BearingPoint. "When you go to a web site, even if there are multiple views of an item, you actually want to see the product in action."

The video player features a slider that lets users control the volume, "a good thing if you`re a late-night shopping addict," Vicente adds.

But adding video to is just part of the strategy for taking advantage of the rapid convergence of television, video and the web at`s parent company, ValueVision Media Inc. of Eden Prairie, Minn. (ValueVision is 27% owned by NBC Universal.)

The company this spring launched, a site that plays the show airing on the ShopNBC TV network and lets consumers buy the product being presented. An "On Air" link at the top of provides easy navigation to the dot-tv site, which has a prominent link back to the dot-com site.

A more sophisticated version of the dot-tv site was scheduled to launch last month. It would allow visitors to search for shows by product category, brand, price point, host and other parameters.

Consumers interested in jewelry can watch only jewelry shows, and those enamored of host Kerry McNally can watch him all day long, Smith says. Consumers can see all the products that will be presented during a show and skip ahead to the ones that interest them.

"Traditional TV is linear--you can only buy what we`re showing now on the air," Smith says. "On the web, we can let customers choose what they want to do. We`re setting the stage for the next generation of home shopping via the Internet."

Back to Top
Only the beginning is out to be "the most visited, most valued online retail site," CEO Raul Vazquez says. After being initially slow out of the gate, Brisbane, Calif.-based this year rolled out initiatives that are turbo-charging its progress.

The Site to Store free shipping option implemented nationally in July delivers merchandise ordered online to a shopper`s local Wal-Mart store for pick-up. That`s already saved customers $25 million in shipping fees, Vazquez says. Wal-Mart stores benefit, too: 60% of shoppers picking up items ordered online make additional purchases when in the store.

Wal-Mart`s sheer mass, when applied to technology already in play, generates numbers that make it impressive all over again. didn`t add ratings and reviews until July, but the feature already has generated 80,000 reviews by consumers, who now send about 1,000 reviews per day. Reviews lift conversion on highly-rated products and give customers another reason to visit. A one-star review depresses sales, but that`s fine with Vazquez, who says negative reviews that prevent a sale also prevent a bad experience with the Wal-Mart brand and reduce product returns.

Though still limited to a small number of products, new Find in Store functionality is getting over a million uses weekly. It lets online customers see inventory status at their local store to buy there or online. Products are identified as in stock, out of stock or limited in stock, with the last based on a calculation of the number in inventory and the rate of sale. That combination is helping to manage customers` expectations effectively, Vazquez says, adding that research indicated simply showing the number of items in inventory wasn`t as useful to shoppers.

Rob Garf, vice president and general manager of retail strategies at AMR Research Inc., says programs like Site to Store show "Wal-Mart`s online operation is now hitting on all cylinders. Wal-Mart`s ability to execute within each store to support cross-channel capabilities will be the defining factor of its success, with the initial results impressive."

"Watch out," Garf adds. "This is only the beginning." Back to Top

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