November 21, 2008, 12:00 AM


These six Hot 100 retailers are building on the long history of books, film and music on the Internet with innovations that advance e-commerce.


When Internet retailing first began, books, film and music ruled the roost. It was these products that the first online consumers mostly bought. Today, the six books/film/music retailers in the Hot 100 are building on this long history with innovations that advance e-commerce.

Borders Group Inc., for example, moved off Inc.’s platform and launched its own site-a robust, feature-rich shopping destination. The goal was to present much of what shoppers loved about browsing in a Borders bookstore, plus add the magic of e-commerce to create a unique shopping experience. For instance, the new offers personalized product recommendations and customer reviews, and videos of exclusive interviews with authors.

The centerpiece of its new site is the Magic Shelf search and navigation feature that aims to emulate the in-store shopping experience of browsing book, CD and DVD titles. An online shopper can make the shelves of the Magic Shelf move vertically or horizontally without moving the rest of the web page.

Apple’s iTunes store this year unveiled iTunes 8, with its trademark Genius feature. A user selects one song, then clicks on the Genius button. The software scours the user’s digital music library and, through an anonymous data link, the libraries of other users who have opted in to the Genius feature. It then instantly creates a playlist of songs it believes complement the original selection.

What’s more, Apple merchandisers had a stroke of genius: Not only does Genius pull together a list of songs in that user’s library, it also recommends songs he doesn’t own that are sold through iTunes.

And Indigo Books & Music Inc. is a pioneer, not just in this category but in all of e-retailing, in that it is hosting its own social network. Membership topped 180,000 this year and is growing by 400 members a day, the merchant reports. Some members are contributing a great deal to the community section and turning other members into buyers. In a move that shows the innovation of leading e-retailers in this category, Indigo is considering a plan to reward these members financially by making them affiliates who receive a percentage of sales they help generate.

A clearer picture
In film parlance, Blockbuster Inc. has turned its e-commerce site from a ho-hum B-movie into a top awards contender.

In 2005, Blockbuster updated with a fresh look that delivered movie buffs plenty of content and incentives to sign up for Total Access, a multi-channel program that gave subscribers the option of returning DVDs rented online by mail or exchanging them at participating Blockbuster stores. But then maintained the status quo while Netflix Inc. updated with more advanced features, such as personalized movie recommendations and digital downloads.

Now Blockbuster is catching up, under the leadership of CEO Jim Keyes, the former chief executive of 7-Eleven Inc. Blockbuster began transforming this summer into a state-of-the-art site that offers movie trailers on the home page, clearly labeled categories, better personalization tools and more reviews and ratings. now also features a digital download center that gives visitors access to more than 9,000 movie titles from major studios such as MGM, Sony Pictures and Universal. “The new design is all about featuring movies and giving shoppers and subscribers multiple ways to rent, purchase or download the films they want,” says Blockbuster chief information officer Keith Morrow. “We added more detail to the movie title pages and made clear navigation a top priority.”

The updated web site will also be the key component of a digital kiosk strategy Blockbuster is piloting in two of its stores in Dallas. “The web will be front and center,” says Morrow. “In the store, customers can use the web-enabled kiosk to make a purchase, check inventory, complete a download or update their account.”

Retail web site design analysts like the level of personalization and attention to detail on the retooled “The level of immersion that site users can get to on a movie page is delivered exceptionally well,” says Dan Kurani, CEO of retail web site design firm Kurani Interactive. “The home page makes it easy for shoppers to select a path, and it’s easy for visitors to get to where they want to go.” Back to top

A magical storyline
When it decided to move off the platform and back to an e-commerce environment of its own, Borders Group Inc. refused to settle for just another retail site. It wanted the new to present much of what shoppers loved about browsing in a Borders bookstore, plus add the magic of e-commerce to create a unique shopping experience.

To a large degree, it has accomplished that with a site that offers an appealing visual experience backed by reams of information about its books, DVDs and CDs, says Paula Rosenblum, managing director of research and advisory firm Retail Systems Research LLC. “This is a great site,” she says. “The visual impact of the site is most profound. It has great colors, it captures your attention, yet it’s not cluttered while being chock-a-block full with information. I really like it.”

Borders brought together a team of about a dozen technology vendors to create a site that offers personalized product recommendations and customer reviews, offers videos of exclusive interviews with authors, and provides access to hundreds of thousands of book, music and movie titles.

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