Vermont Teddy Bear Gets Site Upgrade for the Holidays

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Vermont Teddy Bear is known for its personalized products. And the company recently embarked on a Web initiative to make purchasing its famous bears online just as customized.


To improve the customer experience and increase e-commerce-based sales, the Shelburne, VT, company begins operating on a new e-commerce platform this month that lets it offer further customer-friendly functionality to a channel (www.vermontteddybear.com) responsible for the majority of the company's revenue.


It enlisted integrated Internet and IT services provider PixelMEDIA, Portsmouth, NH, to help install a Demandware solution and optimize its capabilities. The company had used the Yahoo store platform for eight years.


Vermont Teddy Bear will use Demandware, an outsourced, on-demand model, to add features to its Web site and eventually to the company's sister brands' sites (such as PajamaGram and Calyx & Corolla, a flower retailer). The company considers these changes necessary, if unglamorous.


One is an address validation system to ensure the accuracy of customer addresses. Another is an arrival date calendar to help customers select an appropriate delivery date for their order. Vermont Teddy Bear purchases are typically connected to a holiday, making this feature important, Web manager Tom Funk said.


"If people want to be sure a gift arrives exactly on Valentine's Day, they don't want to send it [through a two-day service] and have it arrive on the 13th," he said. It also benefits the brands such as Calyx & Corolla and TastyGram (gourmet food) that sell perishable items that can't be delivered on a weekend or holiday.


The company hopes this feature makes customers even more comfortable ordering online. Funk said that the phones ring more often as holidays approach, when customers are unsure whether their online order will be processed properly. And this can lead to longer hold times.


"Anything we can do on the front end to subconsciously make our Web site more encouraging and confidence building [is important]," he said. "I think the more we can let a customer know exactly what they're going to get and when they're going to get it and let them feel comfortable online, the less our phones will be jammed up."


Vermont Teddy Bear also hopes the platform improves the site's upsell and cross-sell capabilities by making it easier for customers to select accessories for their bears. Instead of having to click the "add to cart" button for every selection, customers can use check boxes to choose bears and accessories and then click "add to cart" only once. A guided search feature will help make customer searches more productive and relevant. Funk said the company is exploring adding enhanced image features that let customers zoom in and out and rotate a product image to see the bears in more detail.


The company also plans a Spanish-language version of its site. Vermont Teddy Bear has enjoyed much success with its radio ad campaigns through the years, Funk noted, and some of that success has been generated on Hispanic radio stations.


To collect data that may spark other changes to its site, Vermont Teddy Bear will use Demandware's built-in analytics and A/B testing to track customers' online behaviors. The A/B testing involves presenting two or more pages or layouts to customers to determine which one resonates best (yielding a higher click-through or conversion rate).


"[The A/B testing] gives us the opportunity to check whether our instincts are right," Funk said.


Vermont Teddy Bear is using the holiday season to work out the kinks in the system and get it ready for the organization's busiest times of the year: St. Valentine's Day and Mother's Day. And because the retailer's business is seasonal, Demandware's variable pricing model was another attractive feature, Funk said.


Clients pay based on the number of visitors to their Web site, making it cost effective for companies with variable traffic patterns. And the platform does not require an IT team for maintenance. Funk and his team can manage it.


"There is nothing for Vermont Teddy Bear to worry about other than merchandising, marketing and conducting the business that is core to their success," said Thomas Obrey, co-founder and chief operating officer of PixelMEDIA.


Vermont Teddy Bear will take best practices from all of its sites to determine which features and functionality eventually are used on each site.


"We don't know the exact migration plan, but we always take what we've learned from one brand and use it in another," Funk said. "We've been selling on the Internet for eight years, and a lot of [this latest initiative] has to do with just growing up and making sure we stay current with technology and capable of designing our sites and features on our sites to be whatever our customers want."


Marji McClure covers CRM and analytics for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters


marjimcclure@sbcglobal.net


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