November 21, 2009, 12:00 AM

Toys / Hobbies / Sporting Goods

Retailers score by engaging customers

The e-commerce sites featured in the sporting goods/toys/hobbies category offer a wide variety of products, but share a common focus on getting to know their customers and encouraging customers to engage with each other.

Take Hot 100 newcomer Lakeshore Learning, which sells games, books and learning aids. Web manager Michael Moore reads every comment that he receives from customers to understand what they need and how they like to shop. On, for example, shoppers can search by grade level to browse appropriate books, puzzles and games.

For outdoor sports gear retailer, customer comments and reviews constitute an important part of the content. Other customers rate those submissions, and the site features a Leaderboard where shoppers are ranked on points that they accumulate based on their reviews, answers they provide to other shoppers’ questions and photos they post.

Employees as well as customers write reviews of the bicycle gear and accessories on offer at The staff’s reviews aim to be concise, yet informative.

Communication can also take the form of video. hosts videos on how-to topics such as “How to change a tire” to appeal to the wide skill level of its customer base, which includes expert riders and novices. “There are basic things we had to explain to some of them,” says Lynnette Montgomery, vice president, direct marketing. uses video to increase intimacy with customers. “We try to put a face on our business that makes customers more confident in making a purchase,” says Brian Van, president, who appears in some 500 videos posted on the site.
Rating reviewers

Sporting gear retailer was an early adopter of customer reviews. Now it’s pushing reviews to the next level by encouraging shopper feedback on reviews and rewarding reviewers whose comments other shoppers find helpful. “When you have 300 reviews for a product, people don’t know what to make of many of them,” John Bresee, president, says. “We want customers to rate the content so the most useful and fresh bubble to the top.” features reviewers in the Leaderboard section of its site and awards them points-and bonuses for those who review under their own names-for the usefulness of their reviews. The more points, the higher they rank. The approach has been successful in keeping visitors on the site longer and landing Backcountry more prominently in search engine rankings, Bresee says.
Close the sale

Everyone loves a deal. That’s why, for most of its SKUs, BikeTires shows shoppers a product’s list price, as well as the percentage discount offered at the site. To keep customers coming back, the same price box shows customers how many loyalty points they’ll get with the purchase. And to prevent customers from leaving to shop elsewhere, product pages feature a link, “Why shop at” Through it all, the site seeks to address the needs of its two types of customers-avid cyclists and people dusting off an old bike-by featuring staff-written product descriptions that aim to be concise, yet informative, says Jay Torborg, general manager of parent company Velotech Inc. “There’s a balance between too much information and not enough,” he says. “That’s what we shoot for.”
An interactive ace

Golf equipment e-retailer communicates with its customers. On every product page there is a question-and-answer feature; customers asks questions that can be answered by other customers or employees. The person responding is identified as an employee or customer, and, if the latter, by how high his handicap is-which can be useful when evaluating someone else’s opinion of a sand wedge or driver. Each page also invites comments on how the page can be improved. The retailer recently wrapped up a “Coolest Pair on the Planet” promotion during which 7,222 participants designed their own golf shoes and shared them with Facebook friends. The design that got the most votes at was put into production by shoe manufacturer Footjoy. There were 108,474 votes cast.
Engaging golfers is a leader in shopper interaction. It has 9,000 Facebook fans with a goal of 50,000-plus, 1,500 Twitter followers, 50,000 user-generated product reviews and 500 questions in its Ask & Answer section. Golfsmith likes shopper interaction for a good reason: It creates sales. Shoppers who read reviews convert on average 5% higher and those who use Ask & Answer spend 17% more on average than those who do not. Average orders for shoppers who use another form of interaction-designing their golf clubs-is six times as high as the typical order. Now Golfsmith is gearing up to create original videos for 400 products before holiday shopping starts this year. “This is an opportunity to get really far ahead of our competitors,” says Jamey Maki, director of e-commerce and online experience.
Joy of learning

Lakeshore Learning Materials’ retail site provides a unique way for shoppers to match the cognitive needs of different age groups with the many types of books, games, crafts and other materials that can aid learning. “The goal is to give customers exactly what they want,” says web manager Michael Moore, who reads every comment received from customers to better learn what they need and how they like to shop. Shoppers on can search among items designed for infants and toddlers, then narrow their search into learning materials that support gross motor skills or fine motor skills. Or when shopping for a second grader, they can search among appropriate books and literature, science and mathematics, dramatic play, and puzzles and games. Learning, after all, can be fun.

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