November 21, 2009, 12:00 AM

Necessity breeds innovation

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5. Personalize the experience

Each shopper is unique, and several Hot 100 retailers tailor their sites to the individual.

When a shopper returns to, the discount retailer remembers the items she examined on prior visits, and the home page shows her those products and others that are related. Art e-retailer DNA 11, which sells to 48 countries, recognizes the consumer’s nationality by his IP address and shows the matching flag and currency, as well as presenting the site in the most appropriate of four languages-English, Spanish, French and German.

At, shoppers can take a 10-question survey, then see recommendations of skin care products that match their profiles. Parents can go to and create pages that display grade-specific products and information.

6. Make tough purchases easy

It’s not easy to buy a gazebo online-or offline, for that matter. But walks the consumer through the selection of materials, dimensions and designs, and displays the cost of the kit at each step.

The same is true for window treatments-it’s tough to figure out how to take measurements and to know what will look good with the colors in a consumer’s home. offers a product configurator that helps consumers quickly choose from a wide assortment of blinds and drapes, and to see how their selections would look next to a variety of wall colors. also has a product configurator-for baseball gloves. The shopper chooses the age and skill level of the player, then customizes the glove by choosing the leather, color and webbing style, just like Major Leaguers do. offers a feature that will come in handy at this time of the year: Companies buying gifts for clients can enter the number of recipients and total budget and see a variety of product recommendations from the famed chocolatier.

7. Sell yourself is all about Tracy Porter and her selections in shoes, clothing, jewelry and home décor, which she shares with enthusiasm on the video-laden site. Biking enthusiast Brian Van plays a similar role on the e-retail site he founded,, which features more than 500 videos of Van demonstrating biking gear.

Hair stylist Ouidad tells her own story of growing up with curly hair on, the e-commerce site she created to cater to women like her. And Barneys New York offers a subtle form of personalization that will appeal to those in the know-the navigation tabs are written in the script of Barneys’ longtime creative director Simon Noonan.

8. Create a sense of urgency

This was the breakout year in the U.S. for a European craze, members-only e-commerce sites that let high-end fashion retailers and designers dispose discreetly of excess merchandise. offers products for just 36 hours, provides members with a calendar of upcoming events and offers a waiting list for items that have sold out. Rival creates its buzz by sending registered consumers daily e-mails with product offers. illustrates another way to create excitement. The site offers a limited number of items at a fixed price-the trick is consumers don’t know how many are left and can be left empty-handed if they wait too long to buy.

9. Connect site and store

Retail chains are getting savvier about using their web sites to drive store traffic, and vice versa.

Apparel retailer Old Navy is a prime example. Its web site offers hidden coupons that can only be redeemed in stores. And it’s added a social twist: a shopper can share one coupon a week with a Facebook friend, a feature that turns Old Navy customers into viral marketers of the brand.

Staples lets customers order custom-print jobs online for pickup within four hours at its office supplies stores. It also mines customer data to encourage cross-channel shopping, for instance, sending online coupons to store shoppers. Sears began this year allowing online shoppers to schedule store pickup of web purchases, and allows someone other than the person who placed the order to pick up the goods.

10. Play the value card

Retailers that offer discounts are playing them up. For instance, both and, the discount site of high-end eyeglass manufacturer Oakley, show not only item prices but also the discount shoppers are getting when they buy at those sites.

Electronics retailer Best Buy found another way to sell to value-conscious shoppers: it introduced a Pitch In card that allows online shoppers to create an account that many friends and relatives can contribute to, a good way to promote sales of high-ticket items.

Finally, although it doesn’t fit into any category, a special mention goes to computer gear e-retailer, which this year became the first e-commerce site awarded gold-level certification by the National Federation for the Blind for making its site accessible to the visually impaired. All the Hot 100 retailers are doing well by being smart; Newegg is also doing well by doing good.


Gomez performance testing methodology

Measurements were taken once per hour from 10 data center locations with standard 10 megabit-per-second connections to the Internet. Measurements were calculated 24 hours a day for one week in early November. The Hot 100 listings display the following metrics:

Response time: Measured in seconds, the response time is the total end-to-end time required to fully download a home page and its entire image, Flash, style sheets, JavaScript and other HTML components. All successful measurements are averaged to generate the final result.

Availability: Availability is the percentage of times a home page is successfully downloaded. All successful measurements are divided into the total measurements to calculate availability.

Consistency rating: Based on standard deviation of the test response time and the test availability, the consistency rating is a quality ranking labeled excellent, good, fair or poor. An initial consistency score is generated as the product of the response time standard deviation and availability.


Click Here for the Guide to Vendors of the Hot 100 Retail Web Sites

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