November 21, 2008, 12:00 AM

Mass Merchants/Department Stores

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“We think the distinction between browsing and search is overdrawn, and that it’s possible to synthesize the two into guided navigation,” says Patrick Byrne, CEO. “We went with this navigation across the top where you basically refine by clicks, and filter products down to a subset.”

The navigation display also makes for a cleaner front page, says Jonathan E. Johnson, president. “It’s a lot less cluttered than it used to be,” he says.

The navigation tool helps Overstock customers make sense of the site’s vast inventory, says Mary Brett Whitfield, senior vice president at consulting firm TNS Retail Forward. While the Internet allows retailers to offer more products than they could in stores, consumers want sites that are tailored to their needs, she says.’s navigation bridges that gap. “They do carry a lot of stuff but you can pretty well narrow it down to the specific thing that you’re looking for,” Whitfield says.

In fact, adds Jim Okamura, senior partner at retail consulting firm J.C. Williams Group Ltd., “Being as big and broad and having the extensive assortment of things they do almost requires innovation in the ease of shopping and navigation.” also enhanced its auction site in the past year, with checkout process improvements and the addition of bid cancellation and retraction.

“We think there’s a lot of discontent with eBay and we’re trying to capitalize on that by finding out what eBay people are unhappy about,” Byrne says. “Whatever it is that they’re looking for, those are the next features we build into our site.”

Overstock spent $3 million on developing the navigation display and $500,000 on the auction site, Byrne says. Back to top

Tune in, turn on
At, the e-commerce destination of TV retailer QVC Inc., shoppers can tune in the broadcast. But they can also turn on a digital community to blog, view cooking lessons, catch up on the latest looks from Fashion Week and, of course, shop.

QVC rolled out the latest version of its e-commerce site late last year. To promote a deeper sense of community, has been updated with customer reviews, interactive polls, blogs, live chats with QVC hosts and celebrities, and more sophisticated video. “We don’t reinvent our site design every other year,” says QVC senior vice president of platforms and broadcast technology Bob Myers. “We are following a strategy of adding to the web site the features and functions that build on our community of users.”

Since the new design went live, QVC has added 41,000 community members who collectively have generated about 219 million page views, Myers says. As a TV retailer, QVC has access to more than 94 million homes with cable TV. But a big part of its current merchandising strategy is using the web and its community to build consistent brand messaging across multiple channels.

“At QVC the TV interacts with the web at all times and vice versa,” Myers says.

Another way QVC is building a better bridge to its online shoppers is through mobile commerce. But what separates QVC’s mobile channel from most others is its text message purchasing program, which enables shoppers to complete a transaction in just a handful of steps. “With the launch of QVC’s mobile services, we’re continuing to deliver our customers an enhanced shopping experience. They can now shop QVC anywhere, at any time,” says Myers.

The closer ties between TV and the web work well because passive QVC TV viewers are now active QVC shoppers online, says Betsy Emery, founder and chief executive officer of Tellus, a retail web site design firm. “Instead of just watching and calling, the shopper becomes more engaged across the entire buying cycle when she wants and how she wants,” says Emery. Back to top

Taking flight
Turning a back-of-the-seat airline catalog into a $75 million e-commerce business is no easy task. But has done just that by making it easy for shoppers to quickly drill down to a desired product page from the home page using category tabs that become more specific with each click.

The ease of navigation is crucial as offers a broad selection of luxury and specialty products, ranging from toys and collectibles to pet supplies.

“They present a lot of products with a clean use of space and make the site easy to navigate,” says Lee Diercks, managing director of consulting firm Clear Thinking Group LLC. “It is kind of like an eBay for frequent travelers.”

Enhancements during the past year include a Spanish-language version of the site and currency conversion for the euro, British pound and Canadian dollar. Additional payment options include no payments for 90 days when using PayPal for purchases of $50 or more, as well as Bill Me Later.

“We felt PayPal 90 days and Bill Me Later would be good additions in the current economy,” says Art Apostle II, vice president of e-commerce for Sky Mall Inc.

Product reviews and ratings allow vendors and employees to post responses to customer-written reviews. Vendors and employees are required to identify themselves.

“It’s a way to respond to customers regarding product issues and has driven some vendors to improve their products,” says Apostle. “The approach has been well received by our customers.”

A new feature allows customers to sign up for RSS feeds that deliver alerts to mobile phones about new products in categories that interest the consumer. The target audience is frequent travelers in their early thirties who like communicating by text messaging on their mobile devices, SkyMall says.

“RSS feeds are relatively new as a marketing tool, but the potential to use it successfully is there because it is a cutting-edge communications tool,” says Chris Vicente, senior manager, Products Consumer Markets Group, for consulting firm BearingPoint. “It’s always good to try new marketing concepts.” Back to top

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