November 21, 2008, 12:00 AM


Each of the six computer and electronics retailers that earned Hot 100 recognition this year are trying their best to reduce techno anxiety


Executives at Best Buy Co. call it “techno-stress”: the panic that overcomes consumers as they consider a complex technical purchase, such as a flat-screen TV or digital camera, or the frustration they feel when the product they bought doesn’t work.

Each of the six computer and electronics retailers that earned Hot 100 recognition this year are trying their best to reduce that anxiety.

At, for instance, several category pages feature the easy-to-understand header “5 things you need to know.” Clicking on it provides straightforward explanations of terms like megapixel. has designed its site search results with two types of customers in mind, professional contractors and homeowners. A search on “extension cord” produces a page with the kind of heavy-duty cords contractors might want on top followed by cords favored by consumers. To make searching even easier, as visitors start to type in a search query the site produces a list of likely terms.

Help is readily at hand at, which features more than 650 informational articles and videos. What’s more the retailer introduced this summer a program called Personal Advisors that introduces consumers to individual customer service representatives who can answer questions. Those reps also post to the company’s blog, and their pictures and biographies appear along with their posts.

“Crutchfield is great at putting a human face to e-commerce,” says Ayat Shukairy, a managing partner with Invesp Consulting, which specializes in optimizing e-commerce sites.

Consumers value what other consumers say, especially about complex products. Ritz Interactive, which operates and several other e-commerce sites, offers customer reviews that include information about the reviewer.

Garmin International reaches out to influential bloggers across the web, encouraging them to review the GPS locating devices it sells. It also promotes its own blog, which attracts 120,000 monthly visitors., which offers 160,000 SKUs, refined its site search and now organizes its site around five main customer categories: small office/home office, small business, medium/large business, health care and non-profit.

What you need to know
Improving on a perennially top-ranked site is never easy, but electronics retailer Best Buy Co. is not resting on its laurels.

The site excels at educating consumers about electronic products. Visitors looking for digital cameras can click on a link called “5 things you need to know” and get a quick explanation of terms like LCD and megapixels. They can click for more information if they want to dive deeper.

A section on netbooks-a new category of inexpensive laptop computers-asks and answers the question, “What are netbooks?” In several categories, visitors can compare items. And customer product ratings and a link to customer reviews are displayed with product descriptions.

Another tool displays a thumbnail gallery of all digital cameras in the Best Buy catalog. Sliders allow shoppers to select cameras by price, megapixels, size and zoom capability. As each criterion is set, the camera selection narrows to reflect the desired specifications.

“Best Buy makes its site very user-friendly by getting products up in front of the customer as soon as they enter the site and making it easy to find the desired product information,” says Lee Diercks, a partner and managing director for consulting firm Clear Thinking Group LLC.

Best Buy’s Spanish-language version of its site, which launched in September 2007, is one of the few such sites operated by major retailers. As of late 2006, only 18 of the 102 largest online retail sites had any Spanish content, according to research firm Common Sense Advisory Inc. One measure of the site’s success is that customers are coming into stores with printouts of product information from the Spanish-language site, Best Buy executives say.

The retailer also has integrated its Rewards Zone loyalty program into its site, making the site more personal. Enrollees can now have their purchases tracked online as well as in-store. “Best Buy now has a multi-channel view of its customers for creating personalized marketing strategies,” says Chris Vicente, senior manager, Products Consumer Markets Group, for consulting firm BearingPoint. “It is a site that makes it easy to spend money.” Back to top

Striking the right cord
Helping customers find the right product isn’t easy when you sell 22,000 items and your customers range from industrial contractors searching for $1,000 fiber optic switches to home owners who need $3 extension cords.

Complicating the matter is the fact that each customer group speaks its own language. An extension cord to a contractor is an industrial-strength cord that serves a highly specific function and costs about $50. To the homeowner, it might be a $3 cord to connect a stereo to an electrical outlet that’s just out of reach.

To address this issue, has put a lot of effort into its internal search engine so that customers can quickly find what they are looking for. “We have professional writers who search terms so that we can give customers the options they want,” says Juan Ribero, marketing coordinator of

If someone types in “extension cord,” the results display options that a contractor would define as an extension cord as well as several inexpensive options for the homeowner. One click near the bottom, and the page changes to show other low-end options.

“This is a fantastic feature,” says Jessica Jourdan, senior research scientist for Austin-based Perspective Sciences, which specializes in user experience testing. “They are providing useful search results that are a real help to customers.”

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