Hewlett-Packard's online store is attempting to walk the delicate line between being an aggressive retailer and remain a good partner to its retail customers.
During the past year the shopping has undergone a facelift, replacing its stodgy manufacturer look and feel with a homepage that is bright and exudes a strong retail feel; the site will soon have several new and improved functions to help consumers configure their own computers and suggest smart up-sell items — all while not stepping on the toes of the major CE retailers the company must deal with every day.
But this isn't as difficult path as it may seem, said Sam Taylor, HP Direct's senior VP. Taylor joined HP last year after a stint running Best Buy's online operation.
"We are designing the site for the HP customer. We don't consider retailers our competitors, but other manufacturers' online stores," Taylor said, explaining that HP goes to great lengths to direct sales to local retailers whenever possible. In addition, the company shares information generated by customer feedback with retailers.
For the most part HP is sticking with a product's suggested retail price and does not undercut its retail customers on price. The site does run periodic specials, Taylor said, but even these prices do not come close to the prices found at most retailers.
However, there are people who are interested in buying direct from HP and they deserve a good shopping experience, he said. HP has found the primary HP Direct customer is someone who is either brand loyal to HP products, wants a special configuration for a notebook or desktop, or for whatever reason, enjoys buying directly from a vendor, Taylor said.
"We have been focusing on our customer experience," he said, primarily using customer feedback.
So far Taylor has overseen a partial redesign of the site's home page to make it more retail-like. This has included replacing large blocks of text that once filled the product pages with more and larger graphics, with more zoom and 360-degree ability making it more digestible for the average consumer.
The next changes include an upgrade of the computer configurator. This is the main tool that allows a person to build their own PC from scratch.
"We will offer more help for the less tech-savvy with more step-by-step instructions," Taylor said.
This will include a new function called PC Advisor. PC Advisor asks the potential customer several questions about what they want in order to narrow down their choices. In addition, the advisor tool will act as a salesperson by making recommendations on what accessories are either required or simply recommended.
A similar tool for the imaging and printing products is also forthcoming.
The configurator is arguably the most important aspect to HP's site as configure-to-order desktops and notebooks are the best-selling online categories.