November 21, 2008, 12:00 AM


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“At first this site can be overwhelming-they offer so many products,” says Mara Devitt, a partner at retail consulting firm McMillan Doolittle LLP. “But once you spend a moment on the home page you quickly discover that this is the destination site for bags-there is so much help for the customer to ensure that they make the right choice for their needs whether fashion or function is their primary concern.”

Indeed, 580 brands, 38,000 SKUs and pictures, reviews and videos to accompany many products can make for a dizzying experience. But, it’s a rich experience.

For example, customers reviewing products are not just asked whether they liked it, but how they used the bag and what they do for a living. A “Bagopedia” offers shopping tips for bags suggesting, for example, what parents should look for when purchasing a backpack for a child or the best gym bags for various sports.

Videos on the site range from functional-how to zip, pack and pull a luggage bag for example-to fun. A section called Emerging Designers features clips of up-and-coming designers from New York to Denver. EBag employees interview the artists and the retailer sells the designers’ products on the site.

“It’s all about freshness and spontaneity,” says Peter Cobb co-founder and senior vice president.

Cobb says eBags is planning more enhancements in the near future including a Shop By Color tool. It also plans to focus on offering and promoting more moderately priced products in the $50 to $100 range during the economic downturn.

After all, even those on a budget should be able to sport a matching handbag. Back to top

Express yourself
On the Internet, shoppers have countless ways to send birthday wishes or congratulatory notes. strives to provide even more options with personalization tools that allow consumers to customize notes and cards with their own touches. The web site offers social stationery and accessories, such as note cards and note pads, address labels and photo cards. Visitors can add their names or messages, choose font and size, then click on a preview button to see how the finished product will look. The aim is to reassure customers that their missives will look the way they intended.

“We endeavor to ‘wow’ our customers by enabling them to uniquely express themselves with our outstanding designs and wide assortment of exclusive products,” says Van Leigh, director of electronic commerce at Expressionery, a brand of bank check and checkbook cover supplier Checks in the Mail Inc.

Personalized touches aren’t limited to text. In a collection called Little Picassos, customers can turn children’s artwork into notes and cards by uploading digitized versions of the kids’ creations. In its Paper People collection, customers can choose from a variety of sassy cartoon characters to decorate their stationery. These include doctors, nurses, teachers, chefs or policemen. The web site features other tools that encourage repeat visits, such as reminders, saved address information and quick checkout.

“The intrinsically sticky features such as the card customizer should translate into longer page views and more per-visit purchases by customers,” says Brandon Merritt, senior experience design specialist at Internet marketing company Molecular Inc. also boasts a clean, organized layout with top-of-page tab navigation. Mousing over main tabs reveals drop-down menus of sub-categories, making it easy for visitors to find just what they want.

“Our team is constantly exploring new avenues of simplifying the web site to provide the most personalized shopping experience possible,” Leigh says. “One of the biggest initiatives this year was to make browsing our product line easier for our customers. We created category-landing pages that visually organize different type fonts, designs and artists for ease of navigation.” Back to top

Eyeing an opportunity
Eyeglasses can be a tough sell online. Unlike a sweater or pair of jeans, many people wear their specs all day every day. That means look and fit are especially important, and many consumers want to try glasses on before they hand over their credit card. has come up with an innovative online alternative. The site’s Eye Try tool allows users to upload photos of themselves and virtually try on various makes and models of eyewear. They can also post pictures of what they look like wearing various frames to the e-retailer’s Wall of Frame social community, allowing friends-and strangers-to offer comments.

“It’s a handy way to see how the glasses will look and to invite feedback from friends,” says Anne Brouwer, senior partner at retail consulting firm McMillan Doolittle, LLP. “This is a great way to shop for eyeglasses, especially in areas with limited retail options or for time-stressed shoppers.”

Traffic to the site, which launched in March 2006, went up 10% to 15% in the months after the launch of the Wall of Frame in late 2007, says CEO Roy Hessel. As of March, about 20,000 consumers had added pictures of themselves sporting nearly 500 different styles of eyewear to the Wall of Frame section of the site.

Users also can search pictures of consumers wearing frames within the social community by several attributes, including gender, frame material (plastic vs. metal, for instance), and other features, such as rimless glasses or sports models. Visitors also can choose how they want to sort the Wall of Frame photos for viewing, such as seeing first the highest rated, the most recently posted or those photos that have generated the most comments. A scrolling box updates continually with the most recent comments by Wall of Frame members.

Having gained in both sales and press coverage for its innovative approach to marketing eyeglasses, Hessel has many more plans in the works, include a mobile application and a partnership with a leading fashion magazine.

After all, Hessel says, why not set your sights high? Back to top

Smart tools, smart toys
It’s not always easy to pick a toy a child will like. And it’s harder to find one that will light up a child’s face while simultaneously challenging her intellectually. Helping buyers find that perfect educational toy is the specialty of online retailer Fat Brain Toys.

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