November 21, 2008, 12:00 AM

Mass Merchants/Department Stores

(Page 2 of 4)

The program has allowed to add new product categories beyond its historic strength in electronics, computers, and related gear. Apparel is a new offering, as are shoes and jewelry. Wisot says product selection has doubled in the past year and a half.

The site all but overwhelms its visitors with information and options. The company solicits product reviews from recent purchasers, and a price engine on product pages lets shoppers compare prices and shipping costs from other sites. “We lose some customers this way, but we build a level of trust and they come back more often,” says Wisot.

A product question-and-answer feature is in testing. The site produces its own “how-to” videos and has created more than 100,000. And it offers many payment options, including PayPal, Google Checkout, and the recently added Bill Me Later. Back to top

Respect for elders targets older consumers of means. It offers “luxury for the elite elder,” which includes such products as long-handled grooming tools and scooters for those who have trouble walking.

“We want to make it simple and easy to navigate, but we don’t dumb it down to the point where it’s offensive,” says Patrick Conboy, founder and president of ElderLuxe LLC. “We want to provide a shopping experience that is commensurate with other fine luxury retailers, but not put off our higher-educated clientele.”

Those well-educated and well-heeled customers want information, Conboy has learned since launching the site in November 2006. They want to see every side of an item, which means multiple images. They want to know the exact dimensions of a walker and see how it folds up, so they can determine if it will fit in the trunk of their car and whether they are strong enough to lift it. Conboy has added more product photos to meet that demand.

“With’s high-end products and clientele, they have done a great job creating a crisp and concise brand that includes high-quality product images,” says Ethan Giffin, founder of e-commerce consulting firm Groove Commerce.

To encourage customers to contact the web-only retailer, the home page features a box called Concierge Services that includes a picture of a smiling, grey-haired gentleman and text that says, “How may we help you?” Clicking that box takes the visitor to a page offering information on how to order, help with specific products, shipping information and other customer service features. The retailer soon plans to add a live chat service to make itself more accessible to its customers.

Conboy and his call center team meet each week to discuss the questions that come up, and to understand what might be behind those questions. Sometimes customers may have physical problems, such as arthritis or poor vision, and are embarrassed to bring them up. Conboy says his team tries to come up with discreet ways to raise such issues, so the customer doesn’t have to. Back to top

A widget comes up big
Grocery and general merchandise products retail chain Meijer Inc. has been selling products online for only about one year, but is breaking new ground with widget technology.

The Meijer MealBox widget was designed to help grocery shoppers plan meals by creating shopping lists that automatically populate with electronic coupons. Web shoppers then print the lists and coupons before heading to one of Meijer’s 185 stores in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Kentucky.

The widget-a tiny application that showcases information and performs narrowly focused tasks-can be copied from for placement on a personalized iGoogle page, a consumer’s page on a social network site, or a shopper’s own blog or web page. “The MealBox gives consumers a convenient place to plan meals for the week and make a shopping list, and ways to save money with coupons and sale prices,” says Dawn Bronkema, director of e-commerce marketing.

In addition to saving shoppers money on their grocery bills, the technology has cut Meijer’s marketing costs. “We publish a lot of information in circulars,” Bronkema says. “This is a new way to put that out to consumers, and we’re all looking for ways to cut costs. Printing circulars is expensive.”

The MealBox is a novel tool that gives Meijer a leg up on its competition, says Judy Foster, executive creative director at Grand River Interactive, an e-commerce design and software development company. “The MealBox tool is a global feature,” she says. “With the holidays coming, it’s a great way to help people set up shopping lists.” As a unique feature, Foster recommends placing the MealBox higher on the home page.

Consumers seem to like the widget. Within the first few days of the MealBox feature going live in May, consumers downloaded about 1,500 widgets, and about 70,000 coupons were printed off the widgets and redeemed in Meijer stores in the first few weeks, Bronkema says. And in the first week of October there were about 41,000 visits to the MealBox by subscribers. By then, 6,100 widgets had been installed. Back to top

A new take on navigation Inc. takes pride in giving customers the tools they need for a satisfying shopping experience, including efficient site navigation. At the center of the home page are 11 vertical rectangles, each representing a major category, such as Home, and beneath the category head a list of sub-categories, such as Area Rugs. That way a consumer can get to area rugs, or dozens of other sub-categories, with a single click.

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