November 21, 2008, 12:00 AM


This year’s category winners in Flowers/Gifts/Jewelry strive to make the experience of giving a good one for the giver as well as for the gifted


From fine jewelry to floral bouquets to goofy T-shirts, gifts are the non-essential purchases that provide big returns on shopper investment by bringing a smile to the recipient’s face. This year’s category winners in Flowers/Gifts/Jewelry strive to make the experience of giving a good one for the giver as well as for the gifted, with web sites that make online purchasing easy, aesthetically pleasing and entertaining.

Diamond engagement ring specialist, for example, has sharpened up its industry-leading diamond search with a new feature that guides customers to more than 150 engagement ring settings grouped by themed collection, to help them more quickly find particular styles. Easy is also the operative word at online jeweler, which offers many sorting methods to speed shoppers toward a choice, and also features top-quality product photos to help customers decide.

“We only use photographers who specialize in jewelry. They know what lighting to use and what angles to shoot from to give customers the best image,” says chief executive officer Neil Kugelman.

Shoppers out to warm the heart of a collector of premium timepieces-or intent on rewarding themselves-will find a wealth of selection as well as online tools to help them choose at, an offshoot of shopping channel Jewelry Television. The site builds on the TV presence with extra content and features geared toward the watch aficionado, with functionality that lets them speedily browse the entire assortment of high-end watches.

Online florist plays to the societal shift toward “green” products with fresh flowers, fruit and wine that have been produced organically and without pesticides. And it’s honed in on its target audience with a marketing plan that includes the media and venues they are likely to use and visit-blogs and social networking sites such as Gaia, MySpace and Facebook.

Also capitalizing on community is gift site, with a blog and a feature that lets shoppers upload photos of themselves using ThinkGeek products.

Through extended selection, lavish photos and content, and tapping into the increasingly important social component of online retailing, this year’s gift sites distinguish themselves by delivering the complete package. Back to top

Still sparkling, an online jeweler and diamond engagement ring specialist, wants to be the best in the world at diamonds and customer care. This year, that message is penetrating international markets, where sales were up 53% over last year to $6.9 million in the third quarter, constituting a bright spot in a market sluggish for luxury goods overall.

“Certainly, one of the growth areas has been international. We opened up shipping to more than 25 new countries earlier this year,” says Diane Irvine, CEO.

BlueNile’s selection shines. Customers shopping the brand’s U.S., Canadian and U.K. sites from across the globe can choose from over 60,000 high-end diamonds that give shoppers a much wider choice than they would find in a store venue. Another distinguishing feature is customization options that allow shoppers to select a loose diamond for BlueNile’s jewelers to place in any of more than 150 ring settings.

Irvine says the site’s formula for success is continuous, incremental improvement, and this year is no exception. BlueNile has boosted functionality on its diamonds search further by organizing the selection of engagement ring settings into four themed collections to help shoppers more quickly find particular styles. The feature also enables customers to search by metal type and price.

Gartner Inc. vice president Gene Alvarez says the site’s “constraint-based search,” which allows consumers to search by multiple attributes simultaneously, is one reason BlueNile stands above the crowd. “It enables you to take a large universe of items and quickly find the ones that meet your constraints,” he says.

Site improvements BlueNile recently rolled out include the addition of live chat to customer service phone support and a diamond e-mail alert notifying customers when diamonds matching their search criteria are added to the site. BlueNile also added Bill Me Later as a payment option, in November, expanding it to include no-interest financing options for defined periods based on purchase price.

“Despite economic uncertainty,” Irvine says, “people are still falling in love and getting engaged.” Back to top

Shop and hang out
Not long ago Lynda Keeler and Tracy Tee were exercise buddies in Los Angeles who shared a love of reading blogs and shopping online.

Yet they believed something was lacking in Internet shopping. “We thought there was a void in being able to discover unique gifts and personal and home accessories online,” says Tee.

They chose to fill that void by launching their own online business-Denver-based Delight Networks, which operates e-commerce site

The sprightly and colorful site, just 20 months old, sells a tightly edited inventory of gifts, accessories, and home décor and kitchen items targeted at its core shopper-women like Keeler and Tee looking for nicely designed and unusual products that are affordable. “We ask, ‘Is this something that we like, that we would use, and that we would offer as a gift,’” explains Tee.

Appealing to the environmental instincts of its customers, also sells eco-friendly products made of reusable materials.

Besides offering eclectic items unlikely to be found at the typical mall, also tries to involve like-minded shoppers in expressing their views on the merchandise.

“We look at as an e-commerce community,” says Keeler. “Come to shop and stay to hang out.”

The site helps nurture that feeling of shopping with friends. It has a “What do you think” meter that invites visitors to rate items. “That’s really smart,” says analyst Scott Kincaid, vice president of usability practice for Usability Sciences, Inc. “It gets people hooked into a community feeling. It keeps them engaged.”

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