December 1, 2010, 12:00 AM

High Achievers

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Social play

With social media a hot button for engaging and learning about consumers, several Hot 100 retailers are stepping lively—and seriously—into the social game. assigns a customer service representative to monitor its more than 15,000 followers on Facebook and respond to inquiries. features a blog and a link to its Lilly Lovers photo gallery, where customers submit photos of themselves wearing their favorite designs. Lilly receives more than 1,000 submissions weekly, and 53,000 young shoppers downloaded selected fabric patterns from the e-retail site to use as computer desktop patterns, the retailer says.

Apple Inc.’s iTunes offers a new social network, Ping, that lets music fans follow one another and their favorite artists, see what they are listening to and discover new songs, albums and bands. Musician’s Friend hosts Harmony Central, an online community where musicians swap tips and share ideas.

What’s special

Hot 100 merchants know how to use the Internet to get across to consumers what’s special about their business.

Hall Wines, a family-owned and operated vineyard and winery in California’s Napa Valley, not only uses its web site to feature enchanting imagery and educational content about its wines and beautiful, visitor-friendly grounds, but to also let visitors learn through online video content why and how it became California’s first LEED Gold-certified winery for its use of environmentally friendly buildings and practices.

“These certifications can be difficult to understand, so we use video to help tell this story,” says Bronwyn Ney, director of marketing and e-commerce.

When Abe’s of Maine suggests optional accessories for its consumer electronics products, it provides a link that answers the common question, “Why do I need this?”

Customers as champions

As Hot 100 retailers better engage and serve their customers, their customers in turn often become their strongest champions. At cosmetics site Bare Escentuals, where extensive educational content helps shoppers address such thorny issues as wrinkles or acne, one customer in a video testimonial refers to the retailer as “my new best friend.”, which specializes in selling teaching materials to elementary and middle-school teachers, provides a blog where the retailer and its customers can share ideas about how to improve the teaching experience.

As new technologies raise consumer expectations, successful merchants realize they must cater to customers however they choose to shop. At TV retailer, shoppers can watch the retailer’s television programs live in high-definition while also browsing and shopping on the e-commerce site. “We want our customers to be able to shop with us however they want,” says Meg Armstrong, general manager of e-commerce.

Maximizing how an Internet presence wins over customers and turns them into long-time loyal champions will serve leading e-retailers well as Internet commerce conquers new heights. Recent figures underscore the opportunity: The expected strong holiday season follows four consecutive quarters of double-digit growth, as third-quarter Internet retail sales, at a seasonally adjusted total of $41.53 billion, accounted for 4.2% of total retail sales—a new record for Internet retail commerce, according to figures released last month by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Being top of the heap in this growing online retailing arena will require the kind of creativity demonstrated by our Hot 100 retailers.

To purchase the Internet Retailer Hot 100 December 2010 Issue - Click Here

Profiles of the Hot 100 e-retailers were written by Internet Retailer staff writers Bill Briggs, Mark Brohan, Don Davis, Katie Deatsch, Paul Demery, Allison Enright, Nesli Karakus, Jonathan Love, Bill Siwicki, Zak Stambor and Mary Wagner.

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

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