By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Retooling their e-commerce sites is a continuous exercise for online merchants as new technologies, capabilities and user behaviors and expectations evolve. Here's a look at the most recent upgrades at some of the leading CE specialty sites.
The 71-year-old independent dealer and e-commerce trailblazer has updated it pioneering Web site with a cleaner look, improved navigation, live chats for sales and customer service, and enhanced product information.
The latter is provided in part by WebCollage, a New York-based company whose turnkey Web integration program automatically streams syndicated marketing content from manufacturers including Sony, Microsoft, Olympus and Palm directly to www.abtelectronics.com. The service allows customers to access complete, up-to-date product information and manufacturer showcases that highlight major branded products, provide educational content and offer product selection advice.
"In developing our online presence, we've tried to integrate as many aspects of our customers' in-store experience as we can," said VP Jon Abt. "The enriched product content provided by WebCollage helps our customers experience and interact with our products in a way that was formerly only possible by visiting our showroom."
Notably, about 60 percent of the dealer's in-store shoppers visit the company's Web site first to perform product research before coming in to make a purchase, Abt said.
Creating rich product marketing across thousands of SKUs for each of their vendors is costly and prohibitive, while many vendors have already invested large sums on developing such content as interactive demos, buying guides and educational information for their own Web sites, explained WebCollage's marketing VP Jed Alpert. His company has been bridging the gap by syndicating the marketing content of manufacturers including Casio and Kodak directly onto the Web sites of such clients as Best Buy, Circuit City, EB Games, Office Depot, Ritz Camera, Macy's, Nordstrom's, Sears and now Abt. Customers are more likely to stay and browse a retail site when comprehensive shopping and research experience is readily available, Albert said.
Circuit City's direct channel sales, which include Web and call-center-originated sales, grew 21 percent during its first quarter, ended May 31 — on top of an 85 percent increase last year — and the company is taking a number of measures to maintain that momentum.
According to Dave Matthews, merchandising, services and marketing executive VP, the retailer is adding cross functionality to its two consumer Web sites, CircuitCity.com and Firedog.com. The latter, which supports the company's in-home installation and IT support and repair services, will now be able to process sales, while the flagship site will now also present services in addition to product. CircuitCity.com is also expanding its assortment with additional SKUs, while Firedog.com is adding mobile installation to its suite of service offerings.
Danny Clark, multichannel sales executive VP, added that the company is adding a number of other new functions to the sites, including microsites that explain product categories in greater detail, and interactive user forums hosted by Circuit City sales personnel.
The executives, speaking during a recent conference call, noted that the company is also consolidating its in-store and online marketing in order to present a more seamless shopping experience to the consumer.
Newegg.com formally launched its online tech community Eggxpert.com last month. According to the company, the site was created with the goal of creating a destination tech support forum "for a community that will exchange ideas on a broad range of topics, build personal relationships, come to identify with Eggxpert and Newegg, and ultimately consider it a virtual home-base to revisit time and again."
The site offers advice and product review blogs, and a "personal space" for its forum members to encourage them to get to know one another better.
It will also feature an Eggxpert Newsletter, scheduled to launch its first issue in late June. The newsletter will provide an editorial view of the forum as well as articles on tech news and trends, and a variety of special-interest columns.
Finally, Eggxpert will also feature a technology database called Eggipedia, which the company desribes as a "free content encyclopedia for all things technological." Users will be able to edit existing entries and create new ones. According to the company, the database will go online sometime this summer.
RadioShack has made a commitment to design RadioShack.com in accordance with guidelines issued by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium. According to RadioShack, the guidelines do not affect the look for feel of the site, but will ensure that the site is accessible to people with a wide range of disabilities. The company says the guidelines are of a particular benefit to blind computer users who use screen readers or magnifiers on their computers and who rely on a keyboard rather than a mouse.
The move comes as the result of collaboration with major blindness organizations including the American Foundation for the Blind, the American Council of the Blind and the California Council of the Blind to develop a series of initiatives to improve services for customers with visual impairments. The initiatives will be put in place both online and in stores.
The company has also announced plans to implement a device designed by Ingenico in all of its stores by the end of September. According to the company, the new devices are designed to protect the financial privacy of blind and visually impaired shoppers. They feature tactile keys arranged like a standard telephone keypad that plug into point-of-sale payment terminals. They are expected to eliminate the need for visually impaired customers to share PIN numbers and other private information while they're attempting to make payments.
Sony Electronics has launched a new and improved SonyStyle.com that provides easier navigation, customer care and personalization tools to improve the overall shopping experience, the company said.
"Savvy shoppers are looking for resources to help identify the best product for their specific lifestyles," explained Brian Siegel, VP of SonyStyle.com. "In revising our online platform, we developed a best-in-class Web experience by incorporating the features consumers expect from Sony. With enhanced features and tools, SonyStyle.com offers an easy-to-use resource to help people make smart buying decisions through any channel they prefer — the Web, telesales, Sony Style retail stores or any of the hundreds of Sony retail partners."
The revamped site features a central location where consumers can learn about an array of Sony products, including electronics, movies, music, video games, gaming hardware and accessories, and also offers enhanced online features and resources. These include:
Personalization tools that are tailored to each individual shopper, including customized order information and a "wish list" to help consumers keep track of selected products. Customers also can personalize many of their online purchases by selecting exclusive "MyStyle" engraving and color options.
Comparison tools that allow shoppers to compare different Sony products by price and feature so they can make smarter purchasing decisions. Visitors can also email pages easily to friends or family members to get their input before a purchase is made.
Intuitive navigation and a simplified checkout process, including the option of having the site "remember" a shoppers' credit card information, and a "save for later" option where customers can return to their shopping cart at a later date without losing their product selections. Consumers also have more flexible shipping options, including three-day delivery for most TVs.
Sweepstakes, including the most recent "Surf in Style Sweepstakes" that offered the chance to win weekly prizes by answering Sony-related product questions, plus a grand prize Hawaiian vacation for six.
The Sony Style Campus program, which offers students and their parents a selection of bundled personal computer products, such as VAIO notebook computers packaged with an extended service plan, a mouse and a carrying case. Sony plans to launch other college-oriented products and promotional packages on SonyStyle.com throughout the year. These programs will also be available at Sony Style retail stores nationwide.
This TWICE webinar, hosted by senior editor Alan Wolf, will take a look at what may be the hottest CE products at retail that will be sold during the all-important fourth quarter. Top technologies, market strategies and industry trends will be discussed with industry analysts and executives.