November 21, 2008, 12:00 AM


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Also, offers a unique feature for customers who call customer service while shopping on the web site. Such customers often spend $10,000 or more on their orders and their time is valuable. This feature allows the service rep to see exactly what item the customer is looking at, saving the time it would take the rep to identify the item. The call center agent also knows what other items the customer has already seen, so there is no wasted time suggesting rejected options.

This also provides the company with the same analytical data about customers who completed their transaction via customer service as those who completed the entire transaction on the web site. Such information would include how the customer got to the site and what products and pages they viewed. Back to top

When an e-retailer offers more than 160,000 SKUs in 100 categories and subcategories, it had better have top-notch site search. With that in mind, CDW Corp. thoroughly overhauled the site search feature on

“Our site plays a number of different roles for our business,” says Barbara Mousigian, senior director of e-commerce. “It’s a core commerce engine and it also works in partnership with our sales team, allowing them to quote orders. It is a key marketing and promotional device not only for CDW but also for our partners, and it is a service and support tool allowing customers to access their account details 24/7 with powerful customization features, such as workflow authorization, reporting and asset management tools.” serves a diverse set of customers, ranging from home-based entrepreneurs to government agencies. “This makes our search function one of the most complex and hardest to design for our many users needs,” Mousigian says. CDW spent nine months reworking product categories and taxonomy to make search more efficient.

To make it as easy as possible for each type of customer to find products, CDW now organizes its web site around five distinct customer segments: small office/home office, small business, medium/large business, health care and non-profit.

Those five categories appear on the left side of the home page. Changing the category highlighted changes the central image on the home page, which links to an overview of CDW services for that segment. The central image box also contains links to segment-specific resources.

A My Account tab at the top of the home page lets customers sign in to see quotes, invoices and tracking numbers. CDW also offers a variety of shipping options, and often can deliver items overnight, a feature that helps it compete against other office supplies vendors.

“With being such a big player with a historical catalog background and competing with the Office Depots and the Staples of the world, they clearly have to offer a lot of choice in terms of shipping options,” says Jim Okamura, senior partner at retail consulting firm J.C. Williams Group Ltd. Back to top

The personal touch
Electronics are confusing. Crutchfield Corp. tries to help by giving customers access to that rare commodity: knowledgeable human beings.

“This company has always been about educating people about our products,” says Rick Souder, executive vice president of merchandising. “For most of the company’s history that was over the phone. But as the Internet grew we decided it was important not only to have an information-rich site but also to still connect to our customers personally.”

Crutchfield has deepened that connection in the past year by launching forums and blogs on, and personalizing blog postings with employees’ pictures and links to their biographies.

The company also displays the number of postings to each discussion thread, because that can help visitors decide which posts to read. “If a lot of people have looked at this, I’m assuming it’s helpful,” Souder says.

In addition, the retailer has integrated more than 650 informational articles and videos into the shopping experience. Crutchfield previously put such information on a separate site,, thinking the information would be more credible if it were divorced from the shopping site.

But it wasn’t easy to get from an article about a car stereo to a page that sold the item. Now, educational information is highlighted on category and product pages.

Crutchfield this summer created its Personal Advisors program that assigns an individual customer service representative to consumers who sign up for the service. Such relationships have developed informally in the past, Souder says, but now it is a formal program that the company promotes through e-mail to existing customers and by signing up consumers who call in. The web site will soon offer a sign-up option, too, Souder says.

“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. “The company offers great support forums and blogs where customers interact with each other as well as with Crutchfield’s own staff.” She says the customer experience could be even better if forum threads and blog posts were integrated with relevant product pages. Back to top

Finding value in blogs
Chris Brogan is a popular blogger on the subject of social media. He also is someone who frequently gets lost, and admits it in vignettes on his blog and Twitter, where he has 12,000 followers.

Kyle Johnston is web and digital creative director at Garmin International Inc., a retailer of Global Positioning System satellite technology for navigation, fitness and games. Johnston found Brogan online and, after reading multiple posts about Brogan’s hapless travels, sent the blogger a GPS travel unit on the house. The result was a very favorable review and many more blog posts that spread the word, in a very positive light, about Garmin and its products.

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