The Internet Retailer Hot 100 Retail Web Sites
By: Don Davis
Internet Retailer`s tenth annual celebration of the best retail web sites features 100 outstanding retailers in nine categories. Each stands out in some way, from site design to finding new ways to reach consumers wherever they are, whether on social networks, a mobile phone, or even in front of a TV.
If there is a single lesson to be distilled from the pages that follow it’s this: e-commerce success is not just about having a great web site anymore. It’s about taking maximum advantage of the Internet to connect with consumers wherever they are, and whenever they are ready to consider a retailer’s message.
Time and again in the 100 profiles of leading online retailers in this issue there are examples of innovations that go beyond the primary web site. Retailers are beginning to sell through mobile phones and television sets, offer useful mini-applications called widgets that consumers download to their computers, and reach consumers through the social networking sites that have become part of the everyday lives of millions.
Some of the retailers highlighted in our 10th annual recognition of e-commerce leaders also illustrate how web sites can be part of forging personal relationships with consumers that often involve communication by phone, e-mail or even in person in stores.
To be sure, there are also plenty of innovations on the web sites themselves, making the sites ever more stunning to look at, easier to use and more informative.
Just check out the Shop by Outfit section of MartinAndOsa.com, where models come to life, twirling and posing in the casual but trendy styles of the new brand from American Eagle Inc., and stroll off the page when the shopper is ready to move on. Go to MaxFurniture.com where shoppers can pan through lifestyle photographs with a computer mouse and zoom in by moving a slider. Or visit Oakley.com to see how the world looks through different types of sunglass lenses, or the Virtual Cymbal Room at SamAsh.com where shoppers can drag the cymbals that interest them into a box and compare their sounds by clicking on each image in turn.
Every feature of e-commerce sites is being enhanced. Search results no longer just provide a list of products. BabyAge.com includes thumbnail images of products on its results pages and Avon.com includes customer reviews.
Many sites allow visitors to filter products by price, color or brand. But at LandofNod.com shoppers can choose a child’s personality type (The Adventurer, Not So Mad Scientist, etc.) to see appropriate toy suggestions, and at Diapers.com parents can filter by a baby’s age or due date. At LandsEnd.com, consumers can see just shirts of a certain sleeve length and at ActionEnvelope.com all envelopes of a certain color or style.
Video is an increasingly common feature on retail sites, and it’s proving to be an effective selling tool. Shoeline.com added 100 videos that show how a shoe looks on a model’s foot and boosted conversion rates on those products by 40%; PetsUnited reports a 50% increase in conversion on the 1,200 products that have videos on three of its sites. Tool King has created a separate site, ToolKing.tv, to house its many instructional videos.
Create your own
More retailers are offering personalization options, such as trading card site Beckett.com where a shopper can create his own home page, drawing on elements of the site, much as he would create a customized home page on MyYahoo or iGoogle. Zazzle.com, which specializes in customized products, has created an innovative partnership with wedding products retailer TheKnot.com that lets visitors customize the stamps they put on their wedding announcements or invitations.
Information of all kinds abounds. For instance, DrsFosterSmith.com provides 3,000 articles and 150 videos on pet-related topics. The newly launched Borders.com site features exclusive video interviews with authors.
Spanish speakers can shop in their own language for practically all the products at BestBuy.com, and the company has noted consumers coming into stores with printouts taken from the Spanish section of the site to show store employees. A Spanish-language section of Walgreens.com offers health information and lets visitors renew prescriptions, see weekly specials and view a store locator.
Speaking of an innovative store locator, CVS.com lets visitors select a route they plan to travel and then see the CVS drugstores along the way.
Consumers have their say
Those are all creative ways retailers are pushing out information. But it’s no longer a one-way street. Increasingly, consumers are having their say on e-commerce sites, making those sites more attractive to others by sharing insights and information and by creating new types of communities that are only possible with the advent of the Internet.