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× Launches Softly But Carries A Big Assortment

“We can’t spend enough to shout above the clutter of Christmas, so we won’t shout about it,” said Henry Chiarelli, executive VP and general manager of

Instead, Chiarelli opted for a soft October launch, and provided consumers with a month-long “sneak peek” of the revamped site throughout September in order to “solicit comments about the navigation and look-feel.” The result: 15,000 largely favorable e-mails (“We got rave reviews from consumers,” he said), along with enough constructive criticism to prompt some midcourse corrections.

Still a work in progress, Chiarelli acknowledged that his team needed to “beef up” the site’s avatar-driven how-to feature, “Ask the Shack,” and that integrating the online store with the retailer’s 7,000 continental brick & mortar outposts proved a daunting process.

But the effort appears to have paid off. Shoppers can now buy 22,000 products online — seven times more than are carried in a typical RadioShack shop — and may elect to save the UPS shipping charge by picking up their purchases at the nearest physical store. The units — which are within a five-minute drive of 94% of the U.S. population, Tandy is quick to point out — can also handle returns, refunds, repairs and price adjustments for all merchandise purchased online.

In fact, said Chiarelli, consumers are “encouraged to use the stores” by printing out their online shopping carts for use as in-store shopping lists.

Tandy is looking to maintain “price parity” between the channels, although he predicted that online pricing would be “much more promotional during the fourth quarter.”

Making the site more than an electronic catalog are the aforementioned interactive features. The battery finder, for example, “will find every battery known to man” by typing in its part number or intended use, Chiarelli boasted, while any item sold by RadioShack can be located online by keying its catalog number into a product finder.

Merchandise is also listed by category, as are myriad topics covered by Ask the Shack, and the e-commerce team is developing sub-sites for the chain’s core Sprint, Compaq and RCA brands that will be located within

Inventory is kept in a Fort Worth, Texas, warehouse that Chiarelli shares with RadioShack Gift Express, the Tandy service that allows consumers to send a boxed gift and personalized card anywhere in the U.S.

“Having the pick-and-pack operation in place shaved months and millions off the process,” he said, noting that online purchases of RCA products would be handled separately by PFS Web, the Plano, Texas-based distributor that’s also fulfilling orders for Thomson’s site.

Besides providing traditional RadioShack customers with an additional distribution channel, the online superstore is designed to attract three new audiences: businesses, women and 18- to 24-year-olds. “Currently, business-to-business sales represent a small, occasional transaction for us,” Chiarelli said, “but we can make it bigger than the consumer side on the Web. It can be a grand slam for us.”

Through the site, the company is also trying to “communicate with women” in order to add incremental sales and new shoppers to a customer base that is around two-thirds male. He added that the college-age crowd is a natural target, given its Internet inclinations.