Fledgling online retailers ready for season

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As they enter their first holiday season, e-commerce newbies American Diamond Importers, Spirit Work Knitting and Designs Inc. and Essenceology.com are relying on the eBay ProStores platform.

For each of these online stores, the holidays represent a chance to target key audiences with gift products like jewelry, knitted items and skin care.

"Twenty-five percent of my business comes during the last four weeks of the year," said Patrick Coughlin, owner of American Diamond Importers. "So I am doing a lot of marketing around this season."

American Diamond Importers has a bricks-and-mortar jewelry store in St. Clair, MI, that opened in 1992. Mr. Coughlin wanted to expand the store's audience, so he opened the online store using eBay's ProStores platform. For a monthly fee, the platform lets retailers run their own Web site with e-commerce capabilities like checkout and design.

To market for both the store and the Web site, Mr. Coughlin uses tactics such as search, e-mail, television, print and direct mail. TV ads run locally starting Nov. 19 and encourage consumers to visit both the store and site. Print ads offer $100 online gift cards to drive traffic.

The e-mails go to 400 to 500 customers who gave permission. E-mail and direct mail are being used to market special holiday events, like a wish list cocktail party for women and a buying cocktail party for men later in the month. Mr. Coughlin said that women tend to buy earlier and men tend to buy closer to Christmas.

Search has not been very successful for the jewelry retailer. A lot of click activity on Google and Yahoo yielded little sales.

American Diamond Importers also is on Shopzilla.com and Shopping.com, but Mr. Coughlin said that it was tough to compete selling high-end items without many ratings. To increase his ratings, he added $99 price points, since most of his online purchases are about $99.

For Pamela Huber-Hauck, owner of 3-year-old knitting outfitter Spirit Work Knitting and Designs, Rochester, NY, her recently launched site at

www.spiritworkknit.com is key to compete in the knitting industry.

Her products work as gifts in two ways. Many of her clients like to knit gifts themselves, while others like to share the gift of knitting with holiday knitting supplies purchases.

To gear up for the holidays, Ms. Huber-Hauck said she is merchandising related items together, trying to increase the average $36 sale.

"The holiday creates a great opportunity to layer purchases," she said. "You have to be mindful of the ease of shopping and quick gift ideas because we will get husbands shopping at the last minute."

To make this as easy as possible, Ms. Huber-Hauck has allowed for personalization on the Web site like creating a "Gifts for the Knitter" section, offering personalized packages and gift certificates.

Also, the knitting retailer will send its first marketing e-mails to existing customers and begin collecting more addresses. Weekly e-mails will offer discounts and information on new products to drive sales.

Essenceology.com, an online beauty retailer, is entering its first holiday season after launching in January. The exclusively e-commerce store is using e-mail and Google keywords to target its 20-to 45-year-old female demographic and the men who buy them gifts.

The ProStores-powered site sells natural-based bath and body products as well as niche accessories it offers in holiday gift baskets like the $45 Nyakio Travel Kit.

"We offer spa baskets, and you can make your own gift set from products on the site," said Maggie Vasilyadis, owner of Essenceology.com, New York. "We also offer custom corporate gift packages."

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