The 2ND ANNUAL I.Merchant Awards

Sep 01, 2001 9:30 PM  By

As hundreds of budding entrepreneurs learned, building an e-commerce site is easy; building an effective and successful one isn’t. A stellar Website has to make shopping simple, even intuitive, for both seasoned Web users and newbies. It has to provide visitors with a sense of security and credibility, especially now, in the wake of scores of highly publicized flameouts. It has to provide first-rate graphics and detailed product copy, yet it also has to load quickly.

By now most marketers have some sort of Web presence. Only a relative few, however, have crafted an outstanding online catalog. The I.Merchant Awards competition, sponsored by Catalog Age magazine, recognizes those online marketers that are helping to establish — and surpass — the standards of the still-fledgling medium.

A panel of industry professionals judged the entries on such criteria as service, design, navigational ease, and merchandising. To receive a Gold Award, an entry needed an average score of at least nine points (on a scale of 1-10). Silver Award winners received an average score of at least seven points. The Website of the Year was awarded to the entrant receiving the highest score overall.

And now, we are proud to present the 2001 I.Merchant Award winners.

Website of the Year


With apologies to David Letterman, here are the top 10 features that helped make luggage and handbag purveyor eBags the Website of the Year:

10) The listing near the bottom of the home page of how many units the company has shipped (1,179,970 as of Aug. 8). This helps establish credibility — especially important given that eBags has no offline presence.

9) The Low Price Promise. “Should you find a lower priced item elsewhere, eBags will gladly match this price.” Wonderful customer service.

8) The Carry-On Requirements section, which lists the regulations for each airline and then provides links to the bags that meet those rules.

7) The ability to shop by product category, subcategory, or brand, as well as a search engine.

6) The amazing selection. More than 150 brands. More than 4,000 SKUs.

5) The Outlet section, which like the other merchandise categories, is organized by product subcategory and also by brand. Most Websites with a clearance section don’t bother to organize and promote those items with nearly as much care or attention.

4) The My Comparison tool, which enables a visitor to select several items, then have the information about them displayed on one chart.

3) The links to a handful of related items (“May we also suggest:”) on the side of each product page. It’s a simple way to salvage a sale if the shopper doesn’t like the product he or she is currently looking at, as well as a painless way to boost add-on sales.

2) The Estimated Arrival Date button on every product page. No more going all the way through the checkout process only to learn that an item is backordered for a month.

1) The toll-free phone number on the bottom of every single page of the site. If an online-only merchant can clearly promote toll-free phone ordering, surely multichannel marketers should be able to as well.

B-to-B Hard Goods/High Tech

Hello Direct
Marketing director: Michael Young
Webmaster: Kelly Kim
Website designer: H. Gregory
Merchandiser: Katharine Allison
Copywriters: Virginia Adams, Paul Wotel

The tagline on Hello Direct’s Website declares that the marketer is “the leading online telecom resource.” The site, which sells desktop telephony gear, manages to live up to its hype, offering information and advice as well as products.

Why it won a Silver Award: The judges appreciated the “concise and meaningful” product organization, with 10 categories (including Special Offers and What’s Hot) on the left side of the home page. Bring the mouse to the category, and up to a half-dozen subcategories appear. The depth of the merchandising won kudos too. If you thought desktop telephony was synonymous with headsets, think again. Hello Direct sells paging systems, pay phones, and on-hold music too. And the site provides extras — some of them free — for small businesses, including intranet service and conferencing. Then there’s its Telecom Resource, complete with product reviews, industry news, product tutorials, and Ask Brian, which lets visitors e-mail questions about new telecommunications technology.

Why it didn’t win a Gold Award: While the site offers some fabulous features, at least one judge said that it doesn’t display them in the most consumer-friendly manner. For example, the product-comparison tool doesn’t work for all products and uses a slow, difficult-to-read PDF application. The copy came in for some criticism as well: too general, without enough relevant specifics, said a panelist.

Idea to steal: The Telecom Review, a section that offers tutorials, product reviews, and fairly sophisticated yet readable articles on full-duplex technology and integrated messaging systems.

B-to-B Hard Goods/High Tech

PC Connection
Net marketing director: Patrick Kevin
E-commerce director: Ron Clabo
Website designers: Matt Renda, Stuart Lebeau, Meeta Mathur
Merchandisers; Susan Brisson, Sam Young, Lorine Carney, Gabrielle Bentley,
Copywriter: Jeff Rapsis
Content coordinator: Megan Fields

You expect a stellar Website from a cataloger of IT solutions. And that’s what you get from PC Connection: “a top-notch selection of equipment and accessories, all accompanied with instructions and easy-to-reach customer service,” in the words of one judge.

Why it won a Silver Award: The home page dazzles visitors with its bounty of customer-friendly features. A section for first-time visitors introduces all its services, which is “very reassuring,” commented a panelist. These services include product selectors — you answer a few questions regarding your requirements and wants, and the site provides you with a list of the networking products/monitors/printers/cameras/memory most likely to fit the bill. The judges also liked the “everything overnight” shipping policy, the huge product selection, and the online order tracking.

Why it didn’t win a Gold Award: Checking out could be easier. One judge felt that the order form is tough to navigate. Another said that the “add to cart” and “shopping cart” buttons are too small and get lost on the product pages.

Idea to steal: The Internet Business Account option, which grants businesses such perks as the ability to request price quotes online, maintain “frequent purchases” lists for easy reordering, and “suspend” orders until multiple items are amassed.

B-to-B Hard Goods/High Tech

VWR Scientific Products
Marketing director: Lynn Homann
Webmaster: Joe Del Grippo

This cleanly designed, well organized Website speaks to the scientists, lab technicians, and safety professionals who make up VWR’s target market.

Why it won a Silver Award: From anemometers to electroporation systems, from stain sets to shelving — if it goes in a lab, VWR is bound to sell it. Products are divided among seven online catalogs, including Chemical, Product Supplies & Services, and the General Catalog. Within each catalog, items are organized by subcategory and sub-subcategory, making “products easy to find, especially considering the number of SKUs,” noted a judge. But in case drilling down proves too laborious, each page also links to the product search engine. In addition to its extensive product line, VWR caters to its audience with a broad range of reference guides (“Common Conversion Factors,” “Hazardous Materials Info”), articles (“A Pyrogens Tutorial,” “Successful Audits Benefit”), and newsletters (for specialists in lab animal research, filtration, and chromatography).

Why it didn’t win a Gold Award: At least one judge felt that some of the pages were too clean. On the home page, for instance, “the white space was excessive. Some positioning copy or graphics would be beneficial.” And the product descriptions rarely rise above workmanlike. “Even in the industrial marketplace,” said a panelist, “more pizzazz could be incorporated into the copy.”

Idea to steal: When there are multiple offerings within a merchandise subcategory, each product page includes buttons to take viewers directly to the preceding or proceeding page in that subcategory, minimizing the number of clicks necessary to compare items.

B-to-B Soft Goods

Marketing director: Katie Amato
Webmaster: David Utter
Website designer: Steve Lockridge

The judges viewed the Galls Website as a one-stop shop for uniforms and equipment — and news and information — for public-safety professionals.

Why it won a Silver Award: The judges couldn’t stop enthusing about the vast selection of merchandise. But having such an expansive assortment is one thing, noted a judge; “being able to sell it by organizing the site with things like weekly specials and features, as Galls does, really carries a company to the next level.” The site’s value-added features include Galls University, a series of articles that help customers select the best products for their needs. Complementing the merchandise assortment and informational features is the benefit-driven product copy. Product pages also allow customers to click on thumbnails for closer inspection and more detailed copy.

Why it didn’t win a Gold Award: Several of the judges felt the design could have been stronger. As one judge said, “The use of colors and graphic elements could be more appealing. Just because a product is utilitarian is not a good reason to ignore good design principles.”

Idea to steal: In its Community section, Galls offers not one but three microsites, for the three sectors of its audience: law enforcement, fire rescue, and emergency medical. It’s a great way of acknowledging the different needs of each group — and proving your knowledge of them all.

B-to-B Soft Goods

Lab Safety Supply
Marketing analyst: Ron Gnau
Webmaster: Brenda Frank
Website designers: Tony DiTirro, Tom Damico, Chris Freeman, Tim Winter, Greg Worm
Merchandisers: Tom Hynek, Steve Judy, Mary Seibert-Morin, Robyn Tomaino, Kate Henning

The tagline on the home page reads “The only source you need for industrial & safety supplies!” And by offering more than 70,000 items, Lab Safety Supplies’ Website lives up to its motto.

Why it won a Silver Award: Did we mention that the site offers more than 70,000 SKUs? Targeting maintenance, repair, and operations professionals, Lab Safety offers “a broad range tightly targeted to its audience,” said a judge. The value-added features are targeted to the audience as well: The EZ Facts section provides downloadable articles with titles such as “Essential Elements of Lubrication” and “OSHA Scaffolding Requirements.” There are also weekly updates on federal safety regulations, a bimonthly newsletter on occupational and safety health concerns, and resource guides to help in selecting certain types of merchandise and understanding various regulations. The company excels in customer service as well, with phone numbers, fax numbers, and e-mail addresses listed for a broad range of departments, from product support to credit services.

Why it didn’t win a Gold Award: The panelists felt that the site design, while serviceable, could be improved. The home page in particular, said one judge, is overwhelmingly busy: “I like that it features special offers, but when I first click on the site I’m not sure where to look first.” The judges also deemed the product copy unexceptional. “It does not ‘sell,’” said one panelist, “but instead informs about the specs.”

Idea to steal: A link on the home page leads to a page instructing users how to increase the font size on the site. The information isn’t anything that practiced Web surfers don’t already know — but let’s face it, how many online shoppers are practiced at much besides pointing and clicking?

Consumer Hard Goods/High Tech

Vice president, information technology: Dave Dierolf
Vice president, creative: John Grant
Senior vice president, merchandising: Dan Hodgson
Vice president, marketing: Dr. Alan Rimm-Kaufman
Director of Internet publishing: Lawrence Becker
Director of Internet technology: Jeff Doner
Director of knowledge management: Jim Richardson
Internet designer: Scott Herman
Senior art director: Amy Row

Looking for a killer sound system for your car? How about a big-screen high-definition TV for your home theater? If it’s high tech, Crutchfield probably has it. And if you want to buy it online, this site makes it easy to research and compare products, features, and prices. “It’s a great site,” said one judge. “From novice to expert, anyone can feel confident that will get what they want — and if not, Crutchfield has the people to help.”

Why it won a Gold Award: The merchandising and presentation, for starters. The ability to shop by brand and create customized product comparison charts, for instance, make it easy to choose. “The detailed product shots are a great feature to save space on the site, yet they also allow customers the option to really examine the product,” a judge said. The highly detailed copy is another strength. “Copy is simple and to the point, but benefit driven,” a panelist noted.

Idea to steal: Present the shipping information and special services right on the shopping cart page. You’re likely to garner more orders.

Consumer Hard Goods/High Tech

Marketing director: Peter Cobb
Webmaster: Mike Frazzini
Website designer: Keith Bristol
Merchandiser: Andy Youngs
Copywriter: Sarin Mead

If international man of mystery Austin Powers were shopping for luggage, he would no doubt say, “eBags is my bag, baby!” If you need luggage — or travel accessories, business accoutrements, backpacks, or handbags — eBags has it. The site boasts “an outstanding assortment and variety,” raved one judge. Moreover, “the promotion of clearance items is excellent!

Why it won a Gold Award: Why didn’t eBags win the Gold! From design to merchandising to navigation, everything is top-notch. In particular, navigation is “extraordinary and provides an easy, intuitive shopping process,” said one panelist. The huge blow-ups of the product shots are a nice feature, another judge said: “You can really see the bags up close!” And the customer testimonials are, in a word, “powerful,” according to a judge. Another panelist praised the marketer’s promotion of its guarantee, low prices, and privacy policies. “EBags is an example for e-commerce sites to emulate,” the judge said.

Idea to steal: EBags’ Travel Community section, in which users share travel tips with other members. Looking for a restaurant in Reykjavik? A hotel in Helsinki? A member who has been there or, better still, lives there, will be thrilled to help in this clever community.

Consumer Hard Goods/High Tech

Musician’s Friend
Director of Internet: Eric Meadows
Webmaster/e-commerce manager: Christopher James
Website graphics designer: Monica Devine
Merchandiser: Craig Johnson
Copywriter: Marty Paule

The Musician’s Friend site is not just an online musical gear and accessory store. The site also offers games, downloads, articles, product reviews, contests…whew!

Why it won a Silver Award: As one judge commented, there’s so much to check out on the home page that the consumer is compelled to drill deeper. The site also does a good job of organizing its broad product offering. One judge particularly liked the list of top-selling products featured on the home page. The panelists were enthusiastic about the copy too, praising its clarity and authority. (For instance, the description of a Kurzweil SP-76 Stage Piano: “Overall, it provides thirty-two programs which offer a variety of splits and layered combinations with useful controller assignments….”)

Why it didn’t win a Gold Award: The site offers so many value-added, nonselling features that customers may lose their focus on shopping, said a judge. Several other panelists criticized the so-so product shots and lackluster design: “It lacks unique look and feel,” said one.

Idea to steal: The Scratch and Dent section, where customers can buy returned merchandise with minor damage at a discount.

Consumer Hard Goods/High Tech

Restoration Hardware
Marketing director: Christine Parish
Webmaster: Feather Hickox
Website designer: Kelly Salamanca
Merchandiser: Marta Benson
Copywriter: Stephen Gordon
Consultant: Clear Ink
Director of Web operations: Jonathan Plotzler

If you love the eclectic merchandise mix and witty copy of the Restoration Hardware catalogs and stores, then you’ll feel right at home on the Website.

Why it won a Silver Award: Restoration Hardware is arguably one of the best-written e-commerce sites around. The merchandise descriptions “portray the essence of the product and are fairly detailed for even simple items such as soap,” said a judge. Take this description of a tabletop fan: “The Silver Swan Fan will lull you with a whisper breeze or create a molecule-bending vortex, all with a great sense of style. Designed by the remarkably talented folks at Vornado, it borrows styling elements from a wealth of sources, melding them into one darn fantastic fan. The fan features die-cast metal construction, deep-pitch whisper-quiet blades, oscillation control, complete tilt adjustment and three speeds….” And the clean site navigation, crisp (but fast-loading) product shots, and use of the company’s signature silver-green hue as an accent reinforce the esthetic of the Restoration Hardware brand.

Why it didn’t win a Gold Award: The Website is too passive — it doesn’t make much of an effort to collect visitor information, to encourage people to sign up for the wedding registry, or to promote its guarantee or customer service offerings. Said a panelist: “It’s basic. There’s not much excitement here.”

Idea to steal: Category pages display up to 10 thumbnail photos at once — yet load instantaneously. Why can’t we say the same about every Website?

Consumer Hard Goods/High Tech

Williamsburg Marketplace
Marketing director: Tammy Kersey
Webmaster: Kyle Klyman
Website designer: PVI Communications
Merchandiser: Valerie Norton
Copywriter: Will Jackson

The Williamsburg catalog uses a very modern medium to sell colonial-inspired gifts and home furnishings — and does so quite gracefully.

Why it won a Silver Award: The Website’s customer service policies garnered high marks from the judges. Not only does Williamsburg offer a swatch service, special orders, and full refunds for items returned within three months, regardless of the reason, but the site explains its policies clearly and concisely. And the merchandise selection and product descriptions reinforce the site’s unique selling proposition: “Everything relates back to Colonial Williamsburg, the place,” said a judge. For instance, here’s the description of violet-scented bath power: “A luxurious treat after a long bath (or even after a quick shower) our violet scented powder follows an 18th-century English recipe. Dried flowers, spices and herbs combine to create a sweet, heady fragrance. Boxed powder and puffs were among the many toiletries sold by Williamsburg’s merchants and milliners in colonial days.”

Why it didn’t win a Gold Award: The product pages have their share of inconsistencies. For instance, while most offer buttons to view close-up photography of the merchandise, not all of them do — a real drawback when the products cost several hundred dollars. And the home page logo isn’t as prominent as some of the judges would have liked, weakening the initial brand identification. Also, the vast amounts of blank space, while creating an uncluttered feel, might have been better used to enlarge some of the photos or provide additional copy.

Idea to steal: A number of the product pages offer daughter windows that provide additional information on the historical relevance of the products. These pop-up boxes increase the perceived value of the products and underscore their uniqueness.

Consumer Information Services

Wilderness Travel
Marketing director: Barbara Banks-Altekruse
Webmaster: Spencer Wallace
Website designer: Liz Willner
Copywriter: Pam Shandrick

Kayaking in Fiji? Wine tasting in Tasmania? The vacations offered by Wilderness Travel may be exotic, but traveling through its Website is effortless.

Why it won a Gold Award: Selling a big-ticket, nontangible purchase is challenging regardless of the medium. Wilderness Travel takes advantage of the Internet’s unique characteristics — unlimited space, interactivity — to compensate for its less-than-ideal quality graphics. Pull-down menus allow you to select from vacations based on destinations, activities, and departure dates. Categories also include Special Events (circumnavigating the Bering Sea on a passenger ship, a symposium featuring Sir Edmund Hillary in Kathmandu) and WT Expeditions, “a collection of cutting-edge exploratories that do not appear in our catalog.” Other sections of the site include Leaders, which offers brief bios of the vacation guides, and Guestbook, a collection of customer testimonials.

As for the product pages, one panelist described them as “very descriptive and informative, with copy that’s colorful, playful, and enticing.” The description of the Great Silk Road trip, for example, begins: “Until the 15th century, the principal artery for spices, porcelain, and finery passing between China and Europe was the legendary trade route called the Silk Road. Marco Polo followed this long path, as did 20th century explorers like Sven Hedin and Sir Aurel Stein, in search of ‘lost treasures’ of early Buddhism. We make this classic journey from Xian, the western terminus of the Silk Road, via remote desert oases like Kashgar….”

The product pages provide a thumbnail itinerary, the departure dates, costs, and other basic information; a link provides a more detailed itinerary. (To access the complete itineraries, visitors need to be registered — a great way for Wilderness Travel to acquire information about serious prospects.)

Idea to steal: Each product page includes a button that lets you e-mail the trip information to your potential traveling companions.

Consumer Information Services

Marketing director: Massimo Prioreschi
Webmaster: Jessica Bremer
Website designer: Deluxe Digital Media
Copywriters: Serena Lee, Lee Micheaux

Active-travel company Backroads can bring you the world, and the Berkeley, CA-based company does a great job using the World Wide Web to do so. This Website rated “excellent” from the judges in several areas, including graphics and photography, ease of navigation, and overall entertainment value.

Why it won a Silver Award: With its shots of Asia, Europe, the Americas, and pretty much any other place you’d like to visit, the site looks fabulous. And the wide range of trips — from biking and hiking to golf and cooking, with activities designed for couples, families, and singles — means users have plenty to choose from.

Why it didn’t win a Gold Award: The site is designed for the consumer who already has the desire — and the means — to travel, said one judge. “I would suggest that the copy be more focused to lure in the visitor who had not been intending on traveling — maybe more promotions would be the answer.” Also, on the home page, some panels are animated and others are static. It should be all or none, according to one panelist.

Idea to steal: Backroads’ Travelgrams feature enables users to e-mail friends and relatives a personalized postcard inviting them on an active vacation.

Consumer Information Services

Marketing director: Bob Manning
Webmaster: Michael Sadowski
Website designer: Chryss Yost
Merchandiser/copywriter: Terry Bascombe

Magellan’s manages to effectively sell its travel-related products — from suntan lotion to wrinkleproof apparel — while offering plenty of value-added features that reinforce its credibility.

Why it won a Silver Award: The Web gives you unlimited space in which to detail your products and services — space that Magellan’s has availed itself of wisely. Its Travel Guides section offers information on electrical standards, telephone adapters, health risks, and water quality for literally every nation from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. The data not only establishes Magellan’s authority, but it also helps to sell product. For instance, in discussing the risk of malaria and yellow fever in Eritrea, the text recommends several mosquito repellents and netting, with links to the product pages. The product copy is detailed too, and addresses (or creates) distinct needs. For instance, “Can you trust all hotel door locks? Absolutely not, claim many security experts. Bring your own, they caution. Our compact Traveler’s Door Lock adapts to more door designs, at home and abroad, than any other portable door lock, holding them closed with its clever hook and adjustable sliding plate to give you a peaceful night’s sleep….”

Why it didn’t win a Gold Award: One judge was concerned that no apparel sizing charts could be found. Another said that the site “suffers from lack of creative design” that doesn’t make the most of its unique features. For instance, the home page offers a link to the Travel Guides — but nowhere does it say just what those guides are.

Idea to steal: The prominent link on the home page to Web exclusives is a great way to encourage repeat visits as well as boost incremental sales.

Consumer Soft Goods

Harry and David
Marketing director: Ken Wells
Website designer: Ken Nash
Merchandisers: Cathy Fultineer, Denise Tedaldi
Copywriters: Marcus G. Smith, Mary Pat Ronemus

Start with a huge selection of food gifts — from Oregold peaches to New York strip steaks. Add a bounty of beautiful photos and intuitive site navigation. Then stir in some well-seasoned product copy, and you have the Harry and David Website.

Why it won a Silver Award: With Harry and David, it’s all too easy to focus on the graphics — and indeed, the food photography featured throughout is sure to induce hunger pangs. Yet despite the clarity of the photos — and the depth of the product offering — the site still loads quickly. And navigation couldn’t be simpler. Links to the product categories and services (such as Gift Finder) appear on every page. The “breadcrumb trail” — the listing near the top of each product page indicating the subcategory and category from which the current page emanated — also enables you to return from whence you came with just one click. And one panelist praised the “great customer service options — order tracking, gift lists, catalog express shopping.”

Why it didn’t win a Gold Award: At least one judge felt that the home page “tries to do too much before telling you what Harry and David does.” And several panelists said that the site should have promoted its guarantee much more assertively, especially given that the company sells perishables.

Idea to steal: Said one judge: “The keyword search button on each page is a great tool to quickly locate items from among all the SKUs.”

Consumer Soft Goods

Learning Resources
Vice president of marketing: Lisa Guili
Web manager: Michael Alm
Consultant: Duane Maas, MCServices

“We make learning fun!” is the slogan of this manufacturer/marketer of toys, and the Website aims to making shopping for toys fun too. It offers downloadable samples of books, building projects for its Gears! Gears! Gears! product line, and even the ability to “test drive” some of the toys online. And, of course, Learning Resources manages to sell some merchandise too.

Why it won a Silver Award: The Website won plaudits for its merchandising. “Categorization is well done,” said one judge, “and upselling is nicely integrated.” Each product page includes links to related items — an often-overlooked way to increase the average order size. The judges also appreciated how products are searchable by subject, age group, product line, and price: “An excellent site feature,” said one. The link on the home page to a Spanish-language version of the site is another admirable feature, as is the 100% satisfaction guarantee.

Why it didn’t win a Gold Award: Learning Resources could do much more to promote its “solid” guarantee and other service policies, said a panelist. And while the home page “is a nice introduction to the company and the brand, more positioning copy would significantly enhance this portion of the e-commerce effort,” the judge noted. Given that Learning Resources is hardly a household name on a par with Lands’ End and, promoting its services and history more fully might persuade wary visitors to make a purchase. The biggest complaint the judges had with the site, though, was its slow load times.

Idea to steal: Any marketer that sells books or instructional materials should consider offering downloadable samples. For shoppers, it’s the online equivalent of leafing through a book in a store before buying it.

Consumer Soft Goods

Marketing director: Vivian Marks
Webmaster: Barb Vaughan
Website designer: George Reyes
Merchandiser: Cindy Davy-Lytle

As one judge said, the site “makes shopping from thousands of SKUs easy and convenient. You can get everything you need for your house without leaving it.”

Why it won a Silver Award: The site is comprehensive, selling a massive amount of products and offering many promotions (delayed billing, the Spiegel credit card, gift certificates, even twice-a-month horoscopes). The products are value-oriented, with price points well suited to the target market of middle-class working women. Yet the streamlined design and navigation — especially the consistent layouts and use of color — prevent the site from overwhelming visitors.

Why it didn’t win a Gold Award: Visitors may not be overwhelmed by the wealth of product, but one judge felt that the site’s copywriters were. At least that’s the panelist’s explanation for the lackluster product descriptions. And just try returning to the home page from one of the product pages.

Idea to steal: Prominent promotion of the house credit card throughout the site. House credit cards have been shown to increase customer loyalty and value — so why don’t more marketers offer them?

Consumer Soft Goods

The Territory Ahead
Marketing directors: Mark Gallo, Eric Petersen
Webmaster: Jose Landeros
Website designers: Helen Bartley, Alex Solis
Merchandisers: Steve Traer, Nancy Cook
Copywriter: Trevor Pitchford
Consultant: Xceed

The home page photo of a fantastical locale draws viewers in to apparel marketer The Territory Ahead’s site. Once inside, visitors will find plenty of merchandise and content to keep them there.

Why it won a Silver Award: The visuals and copy earned raves. For instance, the description of a short-sleeve mock turtleneck begins: “Ordinary tees are great, but for sheer panache peeking out from under a shirt or jacket, nothing beats a mock T. Our version: the cool-wearing summerweight Climate Control Mock T, a stylish, body-conscious top that comes in a soft, all-cotton rib knit for an easy, away-from-the-skin fit….” As one panelist put it, “The copy is relaxed and breezy, consistent with the company’s image.” The site’s customer service features are also excellent. Customers can check inventory status from each product page, and the 800-number is displayed prominently throughout.

Why it didn’t win a Gold Award: One panelist was unable to access the site for several days during the judging process. (Yes, the judge was able to access other sites during that time.) Another felt that the prices, printed in olive green against a moderately lighter green background, were barely readable.

Idea to steal: The Fabric Glossary. To quote the intro: “Do you know your acetate from a hole in the ground? Your gussets from your grommets? If not, here’s a list of the more commonly used textile words and terms that you’ll see in our catalog.” No matter what you sell, there are bound to be terms that need defining.

Consumer Soft Goods


Marketing director: John Butorac
Webmaster/Website designer: Susan Durrie
Merchandiser: Margaret Hartnett
Copywriter: Chandra Andrews
Consultant: Eviciti
Vice president, operations: Mike Ruchensky

From scones and crumpets to breads and spreads, with an array of baskets for gift-giving occasions, the Wolferman’s Website knows how to appeal to gift-givers and foodies alike.

Why it won a Silver Award: It may look old-fashioned (in keeping with the tagline “A tradition of fine food since 1888”), but the Wolferman’s site makes good use of interactivity, namely in the “build your own basket” feature, as well as with enhancements such as online inventory and order tracking. The merchandising is as comprehensive as they come — particularly in a rather limited product category. The marketer has actually expanded into gifts and hard goods to augment its merchandise line.

Why it didn’t win a Gold Award: Some of the functions need a little work. At the time the site was reviewed, the holiday section links were not functioning properly. “When I clicked on ‘Father’s Day,’ it bought up Easter — with no product offerings,” said a judge. Also, one panelist described the copy as “basic and predictable,” while another called it “sort of gimmicky.”

Idea to steal: Take a basic product — specialty baked goods and accoutrements — and include gifts and hard goods such as bread boxes, butter dishes and cutting boards. OK, it’s not a new idea, but in Wolferman’s case, it enabled the company to significantly expand its offering — and no doubt boost its average order sizes.

Consumer Soft Goods

Marketing director/merchandiser/copywriter: Valerie Komarnicki
Webmaster/Website designer: Keto Gyekis

In the words of one judge, “Woolrich quickly and effectively establishes a laidback attitude and outdoorsy feel” in keeping with its rugged casual apparel.

Why it won a Silver Award: The site, which sells outdoor apparel and accessories for men, women, and babies, has an “excellent navigation structure. The design and flow make it easy to shop,” enthused a panelist. Links to the product category pages appear on every page of the site, making it easy to shop for the whole family in one fell swoop. And the copy provides detailed explanations about product features and benefits — to wit: “Pure functional design. No matter your destination or activity, our Convertible Pant/Short is all you need. Made for the active outdoor lifestyle, with built in features such as water repellency, cotton/nylon blend fabric for resiliency, and double needle and secure stitch all around….” And reinforcing Woolrich’s outdoorsy orientation is its Along the Trail section, which features reports and photos from adventurers, and its page of links to other sites dedicated to outdoor activities.

Why it didn’t win a Gold Award: For a company that dubs itself “the original outdoor clothing company,” Woolrich doesn’t sell all that much outdoor apparel, said one panelist. Rather, the merchandise mix skews toward business casual/weekend clothing. Worse, customer service is available only Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern time.

Idea to steal: The wonderfully detailed, illustrated measurement instructions and sizing charts.

Traffic Driver

Musician’s Friend
Director of Internet: Eric Meadows
Webmaster/e-commerce manager: Christopher James
Web graphics designer: Monica Devine
Merchandiser: Craig Johnson
Copywriter: Marty Paule

How many ways are there to drive visitor traffic through a Website — and to ensure that visitors return? Checking out the Musician’s Friend site may help you answer that question, as it seems that the musical-instruments cataloger uses nearly every one of them. “The marketing features are well thought out and placed in prominent positions throughout the site,” said one judge. “With catalog request forms, a weekly giveaway, free e-mail, and free newsletters, the site provides many different ways to acquire names.”

Why it won a Gold Award: Scrolling down the home page, the visitor encounters links to the catalog-request form, Hot Buys (items that are slightly damaged and therefore on sale), a house credit-card application, Top Sellers, the $1,000 Weekly Gear Giveaway, Internet Specials, and a wealth of music reviews, musician interviews, and other articles. The home page also features a concise but benefit-laden introduction to the company and the reasons shoppers should buy their instruments here. And don’t forget the Fun Zone, a separate area of downloadable computer wallpaper, postcards, games, puzzles, and virtual instruments. Drill deeper into the shopping area (neatly organized into 10 product categories), and you’ll be pleasantly overwhelmed by the breadth and depth of the merchandise available.

The guitar category, for instance, is divided into seven subcategories, which include subcategories of their own, from six-string electrics to mini-amps to pickups to slides. “It’s almost too much!” said a judge. “Talk about a superstore!” The stock status of each item is displayed right on the product page. And each product page includes links to related accessories (for instance, the Dean Resonator Guitar Case to go with the Dean Chrome S Resonator Guitar) and other recommended items (songbooks, tuners, complementary instruments).

And in addition to listing the price, the product pages include the monthly installments for holders of Musician’s Friend credit card. “The site continually asks for the sale,” noted one panelist. And by making shopping so engaging and so simple, Musician’s Friend most likely gets what it asks for.

Idea to steal: A button on the bottom of the home page links to screen upon screen of customer testimonials. Not only do these make for highly entertaining reading (musicians tend to express themselves in a colorful manner), but they also provide additional “street cred.”

Interested in entering next year’s I.Merchant Awards or in being a judge? Then contact Shayn Ferriolo at 203-358-4233 or at

For profiles of this year’s Annual Catalog Award winners, see page 43.

The Judges:

Beth Brown, senior manager of interactive, Godiva Chocolatier
Lauren Freedman, president, The E-tailing Group
Tom Hall, director of Web content services, New Pig Corp.
Kathy Hecht, vice president of Web strategy, LearningStar Corp.
Robin Lebo, president, Lebo Direct
Robert MacArthur, chairman, Opt-in Data
Julie McCann-Mulligan, vice president of creative services,
Shannon Oberndorf, director of content development and communications, iGo Corp.
Jeffrey Parnell, vice president/general manager of e-commerce, Blair Corp.
Wayne Reckard, marketing director, Brass Light Gallery
Dr. Alan Rimm-Kaufman, vice president of marketing, Crutchfield