6th annual i.merchant awards

Aug 01, 2005 9:30 PM  By

When we started the I.Merchant Awards in 1999, e-commerce was still in its infancy. While some might say the medium has barely learned to walk, we argue that Web shopping has come a long way, baby. And so, too, have the Annual I.Merchant Awards. We still judge on all facets of a Website, from home page design and type elements to search functions and general navigation, as well as merchandising, copy, and customer service. But as the online channel continues to evolve, we find that the entries each year keep us on our toes in evaluating e-commerce excellence. This year the judging panel selected 12 Award winners; Gold Award recipients received an average of at least 9 points on a scale of 1 to 10, while Silver Award winners had an average score of 7-8.9 points. The I.Merchant of the Year — Lands’ End — boasted the highest score overall. And now, we proudly present the 2005 I.Merchant Award winners!

Judges

Kevin Churchill
Director of merchandising, Patagonia

Lauren Freedman
President, The E-tailing Group

Tony Gasparich
Vice president, direct sales, West Marine

Brian Klais
Vice president, e-business services, Netconcepts

Robin Lebo
East Coast director, client services, Prefer Network

Paul Miller
Vice president, e-commerce, Williams-Sonoma

Shelley Nandkeolyar
Vice president, interactive e-tailing, The Home Depot

Alan Rimm-Kaufman
Founder/president, The Rimm-Kaufman Group

Bob Stevens
President, Growth Insight

Phil Terry
CEO, Creative Good

I.Merchant of the Year & Gold Award Consumer Apparel

Lands’ End

Web address www.landsend.com
Marketing director Lisa Dyson
Webmaster David White
Website designer Scott Keeley
Merchandiser Elizabeth Rangone
Copywriter Stan Tymorek
Consultants IBM, Akamai, Vignette, EasyAsk, Responsys, LinkShare, Paymentech, Coremetrics

The strength of the brand really carries this site,” said one impressed judge in describing Landsend.com. But the Dodgeville, WI-based apparel and home goods merchant doesn’t rely solely on its brand equity to sell goods online. A stellar merchandise selection, superb copy, excellent navigation, and attentive service helped Lands’ End’s Website take the competition’s top honor this year.

WHY IT WON I.MERCHANT OF THE YEAR

“The merchandise really lives up to the reputation,” remarked one judge. “This is what they do very well.” Some might argue that the Lands’ End apparel line is not fashion-forward, but there’s a lifestyle element to the offering that resonates with customers. And the use of alternative products that come up on the left side of the product pages “is quite effective,” said a panelist.

Lands’ End also presents the merchandise, which includes luggage, bedding, and furniture, as well as apparel for men, women, and children, in a logical manner. “I went to look for something, and there it was, right where I thought it should be,” a judge said. Indeed, the marketer boasts “the best tool bar and navigation in the business,” added another member of the panel. Creative plays a role as well, as one judge noted that “the copy and stories set the brand apart.” The headlines, too, go out of the way to give visitors a reason to buy then and there (“Yep, this incredible fabric is exclusive to Lands’ End”) rather than to try their luck at a competing Website.

Lands’ End’s images are as effective as its copy, the panel agreed. In addition to zoom-in and zoom-out features, the product pages provide detailed closeups of product swatches.

The site’s search function, cross-selling/upselling efforts and customer service promotion/placement also received top scores. In particular, customer service is “very strong and all-encompassing,” according to one judge. “I like that all the customer service attributes are on the right-hand side of the product pages,” said another panelist. It’s also easy to navigate to and from the shopping cart, while ordering and checkout are equally simple.

IDEA TO STEAL

Not every apparel marketer can offer custom clothing, but if you can, Landsend.com is a merchant to emulate. Detailed information on how the program works makes it easy for just about any shopper to create a custom-fit pair of jeans or blouse. And since the site saves all information (which you can tweak if you gain or lose a pound), reordering is a snap too.
Melissa Dowling

Silver Award B-to-B Industrial Supplies

Edmund Optics

Web address www.edmundoptics.com
Marketing director Jeff Harvey
Webmaster Maria Tavener
Website designer Mike Harris
Consultant Interactive Network Solutions

Product is king on the Website of Edmund Optics, an international manufacturer/marketer of industrial optics and optical components with U.S. operations in Barrington, NJ. Although our judges rated the site highly in several e-commerce categories, they waxed eloquent when it came to the copy, proving that nothing works as well online as a strong merchandise lineup with descriptions to support it.

WHY IT WON A SILVER AWARD

The home page of the Edmund Optics Website is clean and noncluttered, with only one product — the feature of the week — gracing the page. If this site were meant to appeal to consumers or impulse buyers, that might be a problem. But for the optical engineers and other professionals who are its market, the simplicity is no doubt refreshing.

Nonetheless, it’s when you get to the product pages that the site truly shines. “The technical information is unbelievable — the charts, the specs!” raved a judge. So encyclopedic is the product information that it approaches the level of detailed scientific literature. The description of Tech Spec High Performance UV Optics-PCX, for instance, includes an extensive specifications table for each PCX lens that lists such attributes as diameter, center thickness, surface quality, focal length, coating, and design wavelength, followed by technical images.

Ordering, like the home page design, is simple: Stock number, price, availability, and a buy button are listed right next to each SKU. Although one judge had a minor quibble about the denseness of the copy, commenting that bullet points would make it easier to scan, our panelists agreed that the product data alone made this site distinctive.

Similarly, the technical support area is a compendium of knowledge that would do justice to a university library. Written and maintained by the company’s engineering staff, the Edmund Optics online archive is a massive repository of FAQs, articles, application notes, glossaries, examples, and links to useful sites, all organized by category (such as Optics, Telecom, Lasers, Coatings).

WHY IT DIDN’T WIN A GOLD AWARD

The judges felt that the visual carry-through from the home page to subsequent category and product pages is weak at best, and the overall design and eye flow poor, although again this site is not expected to appeal to the general shopper. And although the site designers seem to have assumed — rightly — that visitors to Edmund Optics know what they’re looking for and will cut straight to the chase, several panelists said that the site could benefit from better use of tactics to engage customers, such as more headlines, tabs on product pages, upsells and cross-sells where relevant, and enhanced promotion of Web specials.

What’s more, there’s no direct link to the customer service page, which when you reach it (in a circuitous way, through the Contact Us tab), turns out to be a list of sales offices to contact for help. The lack of a full-fledged customer service area is a serious drawback, considering the highly technical nature of the products sold and the need for support that business-to-business shoppers are likely to have.

IDEA TO STEAL

If you sell industrial products, you can learn a lot from this site’s handling of technical data. Every product page provides links to other relevant sources of information. The site’s inventory updates are a neat feature as well. If an item is not in stock, you can click on an e-mail icon that generates a pop-up window in which you enter your e-mail address. The pop-up informs you that the inventory status of your product will be e-mailed within 30 minutes during normal business hours.
Rama Ramaswami

Gold Award B-to-B Specialty

Sigma-Aldrich Co.

Web Address www.sigmaaldrich.com
Director, e-business Brad Johnson
E-marketing manager Raymond Chee
E-commerce manager Greg Soltwisch
Product information manager Daniel Boesch
Web application development manager Brian Lawrence
Web systems support director Trek Simpson

You might expect big things from the Website of a $1.2 billion life-sciences and high-tech company. And St. Louis-based Sigma-Aldrich Co. does not disappoint: The company’s richly robust and effective site, which sells items such as biochemical and organic-chemical products and kits on the Web, sets the gold standard — and wins the Gold Award — in the B-to-B Specialty category.

WHY IT WON A GOLD AWARD

According to the Website, Sigma-Aldrich’s products are used in scientific and genomic research, biotechnology, pharmaceutical development, the diagnosis of disease, and chemical manufacturing. So it targets a fairly technical audience. And it certainly knows how to speak to them. The copy is precise, detailed, and comprehensive. (The description of the Extract-N-Amp Blood PCR Kit begins “High-throughput genetic analysis of blood requires a rapid, automated solution for genomic DNA extraction.”) What’s more, within each product category are links to appropriate literature and pages of glossaries and reference materials (“Fundamental Techniques in Cell Culture,” anyone?).

But it is in merchandising that Sigma-Aldrich drew the highest scores. The Website’s offering is vast in breadth and depth (more than 40,000 SKUs), and highly relevant to the target audience of scientists and technologists in life science companies, university and government institutions, nonprofit organizations, hospitals and other industries.

Managing such a vast product line isn’t easy, but Sigma-Aldrich makes it look that way. When you click on a topic link from the home page, such as Life Science, a map comes up with a “Shortcut to Fields of Interest,” which includes topics from cancer research to plant biotechnology. And the search function allows you to search not just by product name or number but also by keyword, supplier number, CAS (Chemical Abstract Service) number, MDL number (no, we don’t know what that is), material safety data sheet (MSDS), substructure, and even molecular formula. “There are many ways to buy, which seems ideally suited for b-to-b,” said one judge.

Sigma-Aldrich provides plenty of customer service features as well. Its New Lab Start-Up Program “is designed to assist with your start-up costs by offering special pricing on a wide variety of products including chemicals, life science reagents, consumables and lab equipment,” according to the Website. For its fine-chemicals buyers, it offers proprietary custom-blending of flavors and fragrances. The company also offers on-site stocking, inventory management, and auto-replenishment programs — ideal ways to create customer loyalty. And customers can order via credit card, purchase orders, and e-procurement systems such as Ariba. Your company has its own workflow and order authorizaiton processes? Sigma-Aldrich will work with you to set up an ordering option just for you. And because quality is critical to its audience, Sigma-Aldrich offers links to detailed descriptions of its quality systems programs right on the home page.

IDEA TO STEAL

Sigma-Aldrich has a virtual stockroom, a section of the site that includes all laboratory essential products as if stored in a stockroom. Unlike most “real” stockrooms, this one also has technical information and details on many of the company’s programs and services.
MD

Silver Award Consumer Apparel

Patagonia

Web address www.patagonia.com
Director of e-commerce Craig Wilson
Website marketer Chris Todd
Online merchant Kevin Churchill
Website art director William Boland
Website managing editor Adam Chamberlain
Website project manager Lisa Hall
Website production coordinator Lisa Polley
Website image asset coordinator Steve Wages
Website production artist Luke McAuliffe
HTML production manager Angela Kirwin
Web developer Greg Sherrow

Given the multitude of near-perfect scores it received, Ventura, CA-based Patagonia, a manufacturer/marketer of outdoor apparel and gear, has mastered the art of creating and maintaining a site that is beautiful to look at, sophisticated in terms of functionality, and committed to reinforcing the company’s brand and philosophy.

WHY IT WON A SILVER AWARD

Putting up a single large image on the home page can seem trite or ineffective. But in the case of Patagonia, the judges agreed that the striking photograph “gets you into the brand proposition quickly,” as one panelist said.

The online store is actually a tab on the home page, implying that the firm is more than a retailer. Following through on that initial brand proposition, the site rapidly establishes the quality, superiority, and breadth of Patagonia’s merchandise, especially its wide assortment of sport-specific items, although one panelist noted that it was surprising to find that equipment was not sold on the site. Zoom, color swatching, and the ability to view most of the apparel on models were deemed particularly useful.

The copy fits the Patagonia mold of excellence by being concise, readable, and convincing (“Encore!” gushed a judge), but more important, it is written specifically for the Web, not recycled from the print catalog, as a member of our judging panel pointed out. One judge noted that the search function is sensitive enough, for instance, to return “kids” items when the user searches for “child swimsuit.” In this judge’s view, the site’s navigability is “so good you don’t notice it. It just works, which is the highest user interface praise you can give!”

WHY IT DIDN’T WIN A GOLD AWARD

Despite its merits, Patagonia falls short in some areas, according to our judges. Although customer service was rated as excellent overall, one judge griped that the company’s unusually strong guarantee is “hidden” and should be posted right at the top of the customer service page. Also, a panelist didn’t like the unusual placement of the copy within a scroll box: “Yes, it keeps the page short, but it seemed too ‘tech’ and thus not aligned with my conception of the Patagonia brand — it’s too whiz-bang!”

IDEA TO STEAL

Place your best stuff up front and in a highly visible spot; as one judge commented, on the Patagonia site “everything important is ‘above the fold’ on almost every page,” eliminating unnecessary scrolling. In addition, try copying Patagonia’s instant pop-ups that flag out-of-stock items and (best of all) provide on-demand estimated times of arrival of specific items by size and color.
RR

Silver Award Consumer Gifts

Harry and David

Web address www.harryanddavid.com
Marketing director Anne Ashbey
Webmaster Sue Eagan
Website designer Ken Nash
Merchandiser Sue Eagan
Copywriters Marcus G. Smith, Mary Pat Ronemus

The real Harry and David — the two Oregon brothers who took over their family’s pear orchard in 1914 and started selling the fruit via mail order in 1934 — would no doubt be amazed at the idea of selling fruit over something called the Internet (on something called a computer). But while the sales medium is relatively new, Harry and David’s quality merchandise, innovative marketing, and super service still hold up some 70 years after they began selling direct to consumers.

WHY IT WON A SILVER AWARD

Its Website proclaims, “We’re the fruit gift experts,” and Harry and David’s product offering and high service standards certainly back this up. The company makes good use of merchandising and marketing promotions to drive seasonally appropriate gift giving, said one panelist. And programs such as Fruit-of-the-Month Club, Veggie Club, and Light Size Club are “a very creative sales driver,” the judge said. The copy is well written (The description of Oregold Peaches begins: “Nuzzle up to summer! These prized beauties are full of sweet nectar and ripe for the ordering”) and quite effective at portraying the contents of the products, a panelist noted.

On the customer service front, “I’m a huge fan of their gift reorder capabilities,” enthused another judge. “It shows they have a real understanding of the gifting business.” And the “shop by occasion” feature is a nice touch, noted another panelist. The site includes such obscure holidays as Flag Day and National Fishing Week as well as more standard gift-giving events from anniversaries and graduations to weddings and housewarmings.

WHY IT DIDN’T WIN A GOLD AWARD

The site’s “too wordy,” according to at least one panelist. Indeed, several believed that the copy would benefit from the use of bullet points. “It could help with the oppressive feel of the product-level pages,” a judge pointed out.

Navigation, added another panelist, is “an eyesore” with much room for improvement. “The horizontal navigation has too many choices [a dozen in all], making it slow and difficult to navigate traditionally.” Another panelist lamented that the search function is “archaic,” pointing out that there are no subcategory dropdowns. And more than one judge felt that the site’s product photography — which Harry and David excels at in its print catalogs — was disappointing.

IDEA TO STEAL

If you’re a gift merchant, it may be time to join the club by offering your own gift or continuity club. You might think that Harry and David would have started to run out of ideas, but from its Organic Options Club to its World’s Best Berry and Cherry Club and Fresh Fig Club, the marketer clearly remains a master at selling food collections.
MD

Gold Award Consumer High-Tech

Musician’s Friend

Web address www.musiciansfriend.com
Internet director Eric Meadows
Webmaster/e-commerce program manager Christopher James
Website designers Justin Rubaloff, Jason Cave, Don Guy
Merchandisers Shane Halstead, Craig Johnson, Chris Tso
Lead Internet copywriter Mike Fitch
Business development/affiliate manager Shane Irons
SEO manager Andrea James

After bagging three Silver Awards in 2004, the Musician’s Friend Website won the coveted Gold I.Merchant Award this year. It gained rave reviews from our judging panel for two outstanding features in particular: its broad assortment of merchandise and its obvious passion for music (“very strong and deep merchandising,” said one judge; “focused on music lovers — a single-minded consumer target,” noted another).

WHY IT WON A GOLD AWARD

Even the site’s award entry form displayed the company’s enthusiasm for its mission and razor-sharp focus on its target customers: A panelist praised the detailed statistics provided and the “thought and detail” that had obviously gone into describing the Website.

That said, some of the site’s attributes received mixed reviews. One panelist criticized the home page’s lack of clear focus (“several competing graphic elements”), but another noted that the seeming cacaphony of offers and elements are ideal for capturing the attention of its relatively young audience. One judge deemed the copy “pleasant and authoritative,” while another carped, “What’s wrong with these sites? They have no copy!” Customer service earned average marks, except for a severe thumbs-down at a downright unfriendly shopping cart that blazed with angry red arrows (“very hostile”) at entry errors. And an aggressive extended-warranty pitch following the add-to-cart page could be interpreted as too hard a sell.

Okay, so the site isn’t perfect. But other features more than made up for its shortcomings, the judges agreed, and proved that it was indeed worthy of a Gold Award. As one judge emphasized, this is “a very, very, very solid site.” With 36,000 products to manage, the company faces an enormous operational challenge, which it handles commendably. Online product pages suggest complementary items; individual SKUs receive clear and detailed treatment; and information and design work together to “instill confidence and trust,” in the words of one judge.

The navigation and search functions are equally impressive. One of the panelists praised the site’s excellent search and filtering capabilities, as well as its detailed response to queries that produce a “not found” result. For instance, the generic advice to visitors to be less specific with search terms is followed by a useful example: “Instead of typing ‘blue left-handed Epiphone Casino,’ try ‘Epiphone Left’ or ‘Epiphone Casino.’”

IDEA TO STEAL

This one may sound simplistic, but it pays to “be yourself,” as a judge commented, adding that the company attitude and culture permeate the Website, “from product copy to silly games to [the] honest and straightforward privacy policy.” And no matter how many bells and whistles your site may sport, ultimately it’s the merchandise that counts — a category in which Musician’s Friend turns in a stellar score.
RR

Silver Award Consumer High-Tech

American Musical Supply

Web address www.americanmusical.com
Marketing director Marketing Concepts
Webmaster Gonzalo Sanchez, Marketing Concepts
Website designer Michael Gagne, Marketing Concepts
Merchandiser Eric Stewart

From guitars, keyboards, and percussion to amplifiers, recording gear, and wireless systems, American Musical Supply has everything you need — short of talent and stage presence — to be a rock star. How big is the product selection? American Musical carries nearly 500 six-string guitars, for one; it also boasts a staggering list of brands that could easily be overwhelming if not for the site’s superior organization.

WHY IT WON A SILVER AWARD

Right from the home page, American Musical is “a highly functional price-oriented site and consumer proposition,” said one judge. And did we mention the merchandise yet? The site has “deep brand, product, and price assortment,” marveled another judge. The merchandise depth is “excellent,” seconded a panelist, citing the site’s presentation of best-sellers, and top brands by category.

The panel members liked the dynamic “top brands” drop-down menu, which changes depending on the product category selected. Because the links on the menu change from category to category, however, one judge said the site should consider explaining the feature: “To have the site doing things I don’t expect is a little jarring.”

WHY IT DIDN’T WIN A GOLD AWARD

While one judge felt that the copy was solid but not exciting, another panelist was more direct: “The copy is lacking — there is none!” Indeed, admits another judge, the site’s copy is sparse on some guitars and synthesizers: “I expected more for high-ticket items.” When you click on the 76-key Korg PA1PRO Arranger Keyboard, for instance, you have the option to view more photos of the product, but you won’t find any copy, other than the $3,599.95 price tag.

Navigation and usability were other sore points. “I found the site very cluttered and difficult to use,” said one judge. Another points out that the site search includes instructions for users such as “avoid plurals” and “avoid hyphens.” Instead of all the caveats, “couldn’t the machine be more flexible and do the right thing in these common cases?”

IDEA TO STEAL

American Musical Supply uses smart, specific labels for cross-selling, something most sites could take a page from. For instance, rather than “recommended accessories,” the site says “cables you will need,” which is more likely to close a sale.
MD

Gold Award Consumer Specialty

eBags

Web address www.ebags.com
Marketing director Chris Seahorn
Webmaster Keith Bristol
Merchandiser Jonathan Fox

Last year’s I.Merchant of the Year, eBags turned in yet another splendid performance in 2005, bagging a Gold Award in the Consumer Specialty category. From a clean yet intriguing home page to a huge variety of customer services, this Greenwood, CO-based merchant has it all.

WHY IT WON A GOLD AWARD

EBags bills itself as “the largest online retailer of bags and accessories for all lifestyles,” and one look at the huge list of product categories and subcategories on its home page confirms this. As one judge noted, the home page offers “very compelling tools for finding the perfect bag for seemingly any application.” (So compelled were the judges, in fact, that two of them even made purchases for themselves while reviewing the site!)

Site navigation is a breeze; the search function is excellent, and every page offers the opportunity to sign up for an e-newsletter. Once you’ve found an item you like, there are seemingly endless ways to compare it with similar products — by price, by brand, by fabric, by dimensions, by extent of warranty — and you can even create your own comparison chart.

The product descriptions, too, are customized to a degree: One judge noted that there were “some different styles of copy, quite appropriate for the target consumer by product type.” For example, school backpacks are described in language that is more colloquial and informal (“Great color selections!”) than that used for, say, designer handbags (“Starting from its shape, texture and styling, down to the most subtle design detail, each handbag is a result of the artisan’s touch”).

What really distinguishes the eBags site, though, is its outstanding customer service. Through a vast array of service offerings, “customers are made to feel very comfortable transacting on the site,” said a judge. A “Help Center” is devoted to issues such as shipping, ordering, privacy, warranties, repairs, returns, order status, and customer accounts. Customer-friendly features include a toll-free phone number and an e-mail link on every page, a 110% price guarantee (if you find the same item at a lower price elsewhere, eBags refunds you the difference plus 10% for up to 10 days after your purchase), an online returns center, and numerous opportunities to send comments and feedback.

IDEA TO STEAL

EBags places a great variety of sales and special offers on the home page, enhancing an unparalleled merchandise lineup and inviting casual visitors to browse.
RR

Gold Award Consumer Specialty

Orvis Co.

Web address www.orvis.com
Marketing director John Rogers
Webmaster Ed Rallovsky
Website designer David Lindberg
Merchandisers Joe Carpenter, Kathy Gauthier, Tom Rosenbauer
Copywriters Kimberly Bellamy, Eric Rickstad

Founded in 1856, Orvis may be one of the oldest catalogers in the U.S., but the company has taken to e-commerce like a fly-fisherman to water. The manufacturer/marketer of outdoor sporting goods and apparel, which also sells gifts, home goods, luggage, and dog products, commands excellence right from the home page. With clean and consistent navigation, logical eye flow, beautiful photography, and easy entry into the site, the home page is a stunning invitation into the world of Orvis.

WHY IT WON A GOLD AWARD

As one judge pointed out, “Orvis knows its brand and merchandising position extremely well.” The product line is “comprehensive and well considered,” the judge continued, and the company’s product knowledge is evident. The Dogs Nest Selector tool, for instance, lets customers choose from nest shape, dog size, filling type, and cover type — since “once size fits all” simply won’t do for the canine devotees who are a critical part of the Orvis audience.

The copy, panelists agreed, offers an ideal mix of positioning and information. It also evokes the romance of the product: A block describing the Simoom sweatshirt, for instance, notes that the item is “named for the desert sandstorms of North Africa, whose ferocious winds are preceded by dramatic temperature swings…” Another panelist commented that the copy discusses “both functional attributes as well as the design and heritage of the product.”

On the functionality front, Orvis has all the bases covered. The site is easy to navigate “and generally very intuitive,” a judge said. The landing page for each of the product categories not only has links to a dozen or so subcategories on the left (along with a link to “gift card”), but it also features a list of links to the 10 most popular items within the category. When applicable, there’s also the option to “shop by collection” — because the apparel and accessories needed for quail hunting, for instance, differs from the clothing best suited for grouse hunting.

One of the panelists noted that the site search fixes typos and suggests alternatives. For instance, if you type in “childs coatr”, it will ask, “did you mean child’s coat?” Orvis has evidently done a lot of usability research, said one judge, “and it shows — in a good way.” What’s more, noted a fellow panel member, “They have a Web team putting a lot of effort into this site.”

IDEA TO STEAL

Most Websites aim to add value-added content, but oftentimes they don’t add much value. Orvis knows exactly what’s important to its customers and provides that in the form of a fly-fishing glossary and tips, as well as information on travel, fishing schools, and stores. You can even find out how to buy a fishing license for your state. Way to reel ‘em in, Orvis!
MD

Silver Award Consumer Specialty

Levenger

Web address www.levenger.com
Marketing director Lynnette Montgomery
Webmaster Paul Picard
Merchandiser Jim Murphy
Consultant Fry

Even if you’re not a bibliophile, chances are you’re familiar with the Levenger catalog’s tag line, “Tools for serious readers.” This Delray Beach, FL-based multichannel marketer of home, office, and desk furnishings takes its mission seriously. Since the company’s founding in 1987, its mostly proprietary merchandise has, as the founders describe it on the Website, “evolved from a few good reading lights to an emporium of products designed for reading, writing and working with ideas.”

WHY IT WON A SILVER AWARD

Our judging panel felt that Levenger does almost everything right. The home page received kudos for its “clean, visually engaging” design, “nice selection of product,” and “clear navigation.” Merchandising obtained top scores for the multiple product photos, particularly for their “amazing detail” in zoom view. Judges also liked the site’s crisp copy. You may think that Booksuits Bookcovers are far from a necessity, but after reading the product description — “These limber bookcovers stretch like a Speedo swimsuit and protect books from sun, sand and other stainmaking culprits like suntan oil…” — you may wonder how you’ve survived without them.

The site’s easy navigability won plaudits as well. The links on the horizontal navigation bar and left-side subcategory listings were logical and kept drill-downs to a minimum. And links to “catalog quick shop” and “view catalog online” were readily apparent on the home page. So were the toll-free phone number and links to request a catalog and to sign up for the e-newsletter, for that matter.

WHY IT DIDN’T WIN A GOLD AWARD

Although its minor drawbacks do not hamper the overall customer experience, they made the Levenger site miss the top honor. The judges were surprised that a link to customer service was hard to find (it’s buried at the bottom of the page) and that shoppers needed to call the toll-free number if they wanted information about overnight and Saturday delivery — information that could easily have been listed on the site. Another quibble was that product images don’t always link to information about the item, although the descriptions do.

IDEA TO STEAL

In a word — community. One of the site’s distinctive attributes is that it strives to engender a sense of community through features such as the Word of the Day, Quote of the Day (which you can print out and make into a bookmark), reading suggestions, and Well-Read Life, an online literary society. Check out, in particular, the links to customer reviews of the merchandise.
RR

Silver Award Consumer Specialty

Magellan’s

Web address www.magellans.com
Marketing director Bob Manning
Webmaster Michael Sadowski
Website designer Pinar Kelleci
Merchandiser Lynn Staneff
Copywriter John McManus
Programming Warp 9

It’s certainly fitting that travel supplies marketer Magellan’s conjures up the name of the 16th-century explorer Ferdinand Magellan. Magellan’s Web team, it seems, has done its own exploring of Website best practices and incorporated many of them into its Silver Award-winning site. The site is extremely well organized, which is no small feat with such an extensive line of merchandise. “It’s very easy to find product — with multiple options,” said one judge.

WHY IT WON A SILVER AWARD

With what one judge called a “visually appealing” home page, the Magellan’s site immediately extends a warm welcome to shoppers. “Since 1989, travelers around the world have relied upon our superior products and world-class service to make their travels more comfortable, safe and rewarding…” begins the brief greeting to site visitors. The home page also includes photos of and links to featured items, as well as links to new products, Web specials, and travel advice that ranges from sun safety information to how to avoid pickpockets.

But merchandising is Magellan’s strong suit. The extensive “shop by category” menu on the left side of the home page includes everything from appliances and auto travel products to packing aids and picnic gear to toiletries and wallets. In particular, a judge cited the marketer’s “good upsells and cross-sells,” not to mention its “excellent content integration.” The product page for the Women’s Drizzle-Proof Raincoat, for example, featured links to a rain poncho, a microfiber jacket, a rain hat, and galoshes.

Another panelist pointed out that the site is “incredibly robust from a content and product aspect.” Clicking on the “optics and photography” category link, for instance, brings you to a landing page with a drop-down menu of subcategories for binoculars, camera bags, magnifiers, and photography accessories. Also on the category landing page: photos of and links to featured products and links to articles pertinent to photography (“Danger: X-Rays,” “Escaping the Postcard View”).

WHY IT DIDN’T WIN A GOLD AWARD

It very nearly did. But on its home page, said one judge, Magellan’s could stand to “tighten up the real estate a bit.” Another panelist pointed out that the live chat feature was not available on Sundays, when customers might well be shopping for travel accessories. But in general, the panel had few negative comments about the site.

IDEA TO STEAL

Magellan’s “shop by destination” option is fabulous. Need to know the time zone of Turkmenistan or the weather in Wales? The site will tell you, along with other nuggets of information including the health risks, security concerns, and electrical standards of your destination. Granted, this specific feature would likely work only for another travel-products merchant, but surely other marketers can think of relevant information to provide their audience.
MD

Silver Award Office Products

Action Envelope

Web address www.actionenvelope.com
Marketing director Seth Newman
Website designer Alexander Interactive
Copywriter Seth Newman

The mission of Farmingdale, NY-based Action Envelope is simple: to sell “envelopes that inspire action.” And the company fulfills that mission admirably, providing a multitude of choices in an organized manner and allowing customers plenty of freedom to choose the designs and messages they want.

WHY IT WON A SILVER AWARD

Our panel found the home page rather busy but noted that it loads quickly and offers myriad shopping options from the get-go. If you want a specialty envelope, for example, you can select right away from a menu of seven choices — full-face window, express, mini envelopes, CD/DVD, airmail, jumbo, coin. Know exactly what you want? No problem. There’s a “Quick Buys” section that lists common choices such as No. 10 Regular. Paper, a subcategory on the site, also comes in a wide range of textures and sizes. There’s plenty of room for originality. Once you’ve selected the type of envelope to be printed and the quantity you want, you can visit the “Print Center” and upload a print-ready artwork file of your design; proofs can be viewed online.

On the service side, the company gives the “impression of a responsive organization,” said a judge. Checkout procedures are quick and straightforward, policies are easy to find, a customer service link and a toll-free phone number are posted on the top of every page, and the detailed FAQs on the customer service page answer most questions.

WHY IT DIDN’T WIN A GOLD AWARD

The Action Envelope Website, said the judges, fell short in two critical areas: copy and navigability. They found the copy simplistic and pedestrian (one envelope, for example, is described as “a real eye catcher!”), with a tendency to focus more on product attributes than on the benefit to the customer. And the judges agreed that the search function was clunky and not very forgiving or “intelligent,” in that it did not pick up obvious misspellings and did not have enough organizational options to show off the impressive merchandise assortment.

IDEA TO STEAL

Action Envelope’s one-click reordering option is a huge advantage, particularly with a Website such as this, which places much of the responsibility for merchandise selection and design on the customer.
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