In an effort to prepare for what it hopes will be a deluge of holiday shoppers, The Sharper Image recently relaunched its 5-year-old Web site last month.
The gifts and gadgets marketer added new features to the site, at www.sharperimage.com, including order status, instant calculation of tax and shipping costs as well as products shown in 3-D.
“Last year we had almost a 500 percent increase over the prior year in terms of sales and we didn't have [those features] available for customers,” said Kathryn Grant, senior manager of Internet strategy at The Sharper Image, San Francisco. “[This holiday season] we're expecting that those services are going to make a big difference.”
The new site was in soft launch in September and the company used feedback from its customers to make final changes.
The multichannel merchant also has added a technology to its site this year. Developed by Intel Corp., Santa Clara, CA, it is designed to simulate browsing in a brick-and-mortar store. The technology, dubbed “dynamic browser,” makes product pitches based, in part, on customers' clicking habits.
“The technology works on an algorithm and finds the relationship between different products,” Grant said. “It serves up products that are similar to the one you happen to be viewing. For instance, say the product that you're looking at is a CD shower companion, you might see something for personal care, or something that's related to showering or other CD products.”
The browser then serves up three unrelated products, since “our products tend not to fall within specific categories very easily,” Grant said. “It seems to work for us in terms of showing customers a wide variety of products at one time.”
The Sharper Image hopes that “dynamic browsing,” an optional feature for customers, will help boost online sales.
The company expects to generate $60 million in sales online this year, which would more than double last year's sales. The Web site generated $19 million in sales during the first half of this year, an increase of 189 percent over the same period last year when $6.6 million was generated, Grant said. The merchant's total sales for last year reached almost $300 million.
In terms of visuals, the site's redesign was intended — like the more colorful look of its retail stores — to appeal not only to its traditional male customer, but also to women.
“We were discovering that our customer base was changing significantly,” Grant said. “Back in the '80s we did tend to have a stronger male customer base, but now it's actually a split, 50-50 between men and women.”
The cataloger intends to drop approximately 50 million catalogs, which are designed inhouse, this year. The merchant mails monthly to 2 million to 3 million homes on average, increasing to 8 million during the winter holiday season.
“We tend to send it out to about 10 percent more people every year,” said Grant, who declined to share the percentage of prospecting that the company does for a given mailing. Walter Karl Inc., Pearl River, NY, handles list brokerage for the company.
In addition to the regular monthly drops, The Sharper Image mails one extra book during the holiday season. Its gift catalog is expected to be in homes during the week of Nov. 20.
The company manages distribution and fulfillment internally at its facility in Little Rock, AR, for its catalog, Web and retail divisions.
During the winter holiday season the company also uses a third-party fulfillment house.