January 22, 2009, 12:00 AM

Borders’ online strategy makes its web site the cross channel hub

Borders is increasingly bringing the web’s utility into Borders stores as it knits the best of both channels together, vice president of e-business Kevin Ertell said at the Internet Retailer Web Design ’09 Conference in Miami Beach, FL, this week.

Borders Books and Music launched its new web site last year amid fanfare for innovative new merchandising features such as its Magic Shelf personalized recommendation engine, but the site’s role is much greater than simply online sales. “It’s the most versatile tool in our arsenal,” vice president of e-business Kevin Ertell told attendees as the Internet Retailer Web Design ’09 Conference this week in describing Borders’ web strategy.

Borders.com is the hub in Borders’ cross channel approach, which is increasingly bringing the features and utilities Borders’ online visitors enjoy into Borders’ stores. “Cross channel is more than multi-channel,” Ertell said. “We think of it as one plus one equals three. In other words, how do we pull together the strengths of channels so the overall experience is greater than the sum of the parts?”

Ertell describes several ways in which the new Borders.com is knitting the best of the web experience into the store experience. For example, because Borders’ total inventory is 10 times bigger than the inventory in even the largest Borders stores, Borders store customers can now order from store kiosks books that are not in a store but in the warehouse. Customers can buy online for delivery to their home, office or, for free, to their local store.

Ertell said 35% of customers who choose the ship-to-store option purchase something beyond their original order when in the store for pick-up. Another site option, reserve online and buy in store, has also proved to be a key driver of store traffic. Ertell said 25,000 to 30,000 Borders customers use the feature every week.

From the store kiosks, customers also can use other features on the site, such as accessing wish lists they created at home, or checking their status in the Borders’ Rewards loyalty program. Borders also has recently added new content to the site including staff reviews, in addition to customer reviews.

“We have 30,000 booksellers and we’re harnessing their expertise on the site,” Ertell said. That extends the reach of local experts across the country; with a web visitor in Seattle able to read a staff review by a history expert working in a Washington, D.C., store, for example, Ertell explained.

Ertell described a process of continuous site improvements in which Borders is continually listening to customer feedback, tweaking and testing the site, and rolling out what works in new releases of the sites. “This is jus the beginning the journey,” Ertell said.

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