November 21, 2009, 12:00 AM

Specialty / Non-Apparel

Web retailers that know their niche


When a retailer sells a specialty product, like eyeglasses or mobile phone cases, the merchant must know exactly what its customers are looking for.

Each of the 17 retailers in the specialty/non-apparel category of this year’s Hot 100 has found innovative ways to provide the information that its particular customers need. And when shoppers are confident they’ve found the right product, they’re more likely to make a purchase.

For instance, a shopper looking for eyewear wants to see how frames will look on her face. That’s why features the EyeTry virtual eyeglass-fitting application that allows customers, after uploading their photos, to see how a pair of glasses would fit and look. solves the same problem by featuring a front and side view of the frames on category pages, while also offering two-way free shipping so consumers can try sunglasses on at home.

Both and sell products to caregivers. Knowing that caregiving, be it for a parent or a newborn child, can be a nerve-wracking experience, the sites provide original educational content. BabyAge organizes its content around a 21-month timeline, while ParentGiving focuses on such necessities as housing options.

The biggest piece of information someone shopping for a mobile phone case needs is will it fit his phone. That’s why allows shoppers to search the site by wireless carrier or phone type. The site’s product pages feature product details, as well as several views of a case. Some even have embedded YouTube videos showing off a case’s features. It may just be a mobile phone case, but consumers still want to know they’re getting what they need.
The extra mile does a lot of things right: Top Searches and Featured Products to complement well-honed site search; a Narrow Results feature on every category and results page; customer ratings and reviews; product recommendations; well-written blogs. And it goes the extra mile with content for new parents, or those seeking a refresher. teamed with infant health and safety experts at the First Candle/SIDS Alliance to compile a list of tips to help parents care for their babies. To get useful content, customers can click on any of the events on a 21-month timeline, which includes the three trimesters of pregnancy, hospital stay, welcome home and so on. This kind of tool, says CEO Jack Kiefer, shows parents is here for them and leads them to talk up the site to their friends.
On the case

Retailer, which sells mobile phone cases, lets consumers search by wireless carrier or phone type, because everyone knows what phone they carry and their carrier, says Andrew Knight, vice president of e-commerce. The new version of the site, launched in April with vendor ShopVisible, includes embedded YouTube videos on product pages that show off each case’s features. Viewers can double click on a video to go to, where they can comment on a video or share it with friends. And they do. One video about a new iPhone case that carries credit cards and ID was viewed 42,000 times in the six weeks after the product’s launch. Case-Mate also solicits comments from visitors with a Feedback tab on every page, and Knight says that input helps shape company product plans.
Novel simplicity

Most of Century’s customers have never heard of the party supplies e-retailer before they arrive at the site via paid or organic search. “All they know is what they see on site, so we try to make everything perfect since our web site is our brand,” says Ian MacDonald, vice president and general manager of Century Novelty Company Inc. That’s why the web site seeks to make it as easy as possible to throw a party. Customers can search for items by event, theme or product category. To ensure orders arrive in time for the event the site tied together its shopping cart application and order management system to provide information about when items will arrive by various shipping methods. And if an item is out of stock, the site recommends alternatives.
Moving wallflowers excels in offering unusual designs for room décor. “With many homes having the same type of furniture, we help to differentiate it,” says Florent Lavaud, CEO. The e-retailer provides life-size vinyl decals, including images of people, animals and plants, that customers can stick to a wall. A strategically placed decal of a flowering plant, for example, can be made to look as if it’s growing out of an actual vase sitting on a table. How-to videos show how to prepare and mount the vinyl products, and sample online room settings let shoppers instantly change colors of walls and illustrations to see how decals might look in their homes. not only offers new ways to embellish room arrangements, it makes an unusual decorating technique easy to understand and deploy.
Well traveled

Everyone has DNA. So DNA 11, which sells Andy Warhol-esque art created from consumers’ DNA, decided everyone is a potential customer. Although the retailer’s annual sales are less than $5 million, it’s adopted a strategy more common among big retailers: It’s gone abroad. Using technology from vendor MotionPoint that detects a visitor’s location from their IP address, converts currencies, posts an appropriate country flag and translates text. Today it boasts 48 country-specific sites in Spanish, French, German and English. And the similarities between DNA 11 and larger players don’t end there. One look at the e-retailer’s dramatic product presentations and it’s clear DNA 11 takes site design seriously. It also sells portraits made from pet DNA, because Buddy deserves personal art, too.

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