The Fourth Annual I.Merchant Awards

The Web has become a far more competitive playing field this year, with companies revamping their sites and applying more-stringent metrics to measure online performance. So it should be no surprise that our judges were equally as tough on the entries this year. Examining everything from site functionality and design to copy and merchandising, judges scrutinized a vast field of entries, coming up with 10 winners. ▪ To receive a Gold Award, an entry needed an average score of at least nine points on a scale of 1 to 10. Silver Award winners boasted an average score of at least seven points. The Website of the Year (Quill.com) went to the entry with the highest score overall. ▪ Without further adieu, CATALOG AGE presents its Fourth Annual I.Merchant Awards winners…

THE JUDGES

Amy Africa, president, Creative Results

Wendy Brewer, e-business manager, Seton Identification Products

Lauren Freedman, president, The E-tailing Group

Jeff Govoni, director of e-commerce, Gardener’s Supply Co.

Tom Hall, vice president of Web strategy, New Pig Corp.

Robin Lebo, president, Lebo Direct

John Morley, senior Internet marketer, HearthSong

Will South, director of catalog services, NAPA Auto Parts

Robert Stevens, president, Growth Insight

Phil Terry, CEO, Creative Good

I.MERCHANT OF THE YEAR

Also Gold Award, B-to-B Soft Goods

Quill

www.quill.com
Vice president, Quill.com: Sarah Alter
Marketing director: Lisa Iannuzzelli
Webmasters: Kathy Yoannides, Nicole Farrell
Website designer: Gary Kuhstoss
Merchandiser: Helen Bertolucci
Copywriter: Greg Skarbalus

If you are going to display the tagline “Friendly Service, Real Value — Guaranteed,” you’d better deliver on that promise. And the judges agreed that office supplies cataloger Quill does, while making online shopping pleasant and hassle-free to boot.

Why it won Website of the Year: The Quill Website is focused on making the customer experience easy. “The home page is utilitarian and intuitive,” said one judge, who praised the company for understanding that its time-pressed customers need to locate products in a trice. Users can link directly to a plethora of product categories from Quill’s home page, and if they can’t find something immediately, they need only use the site’s easy-to-spot search function, which judges described as “tops.” Just try tripping up the function with a misspelling — it’s virtually impossible.

The same goes for getting lost on the Quill Website. Try as they might, the judges couldn’t, thanks to the consistent, simple navigation. On each page the product category and subcategories are clearly displayed.

Quill is a price-driven marketer that sticks to its mission by calling attention to special pricing and volume discounts. And while each product category boasts a wealth of items to choose from, the Website doesn’t overmerchandise. “The product niche is such that if the company does not take notice it could end up overwhelming the customer,” said one judge. Quill does take notice. If visitors are overwhelmed, it’s only by the sheer ease of shopping.

Idea to steal: As one judge said, “Its checkout feature was stellar, and it should be studied by everybody.” Quill not only gives you the delivery charges and estimated ship time before an item is added to the shopping cart, but it also makes helpful suggestions regarding bulk discounts on most of its products. This helps customers save money, of course, but it also helps Quill boost its average order value. Talk about your win-win situations!

B-TO-B SOFT GOODS

Silver Award

WearGuard

www.wearguard.com
Marketing directors: Joan Abrams, George Woodward
Webmaster: Charles Seelig
Website designers: Kathy Evers, Tom Deveau
Merchandiser: Judy Dunning
Copywriter: Karl Klaussen
Web staff: Paul O’Neill, Blair Johnston, Maureen
Knott, Mary Ellen Moore, Barbara Farrell

Maintaining the strength of a catalog brand online can be tough, given the distractions inherent on the Web. But WearGuard meets the challenge handily, creating content to appeal to customers shopping for rugged work apparel while promoting the product benefits.

Why it won a Silver Award: This site is “not fancy, but functional,” remarked a judge. And when you’re selling coveralls, boots, parkas, and other hard-working apparel, functionality is paramount. WearGuard understands that its core customers have neither the time nor the inclination to search a site for the gear they need.

Indeed, judges felt that the company knows its customer well and, as one panelist put it, “works hard to appeal to the typical WearGuard buyer.” For example, product prices appear in big, red type, promoting quality at a value price. And including lifestyle photos as well as product closeups goes a long way to confirm the marketer’s credibility among workers in a host of industries, from plumbing to landscaping.

Another hit with judges was the apparel-personalization option. Copy gives customers several reasons to spring for personalization, from creating “walking advertisements” for their companies to boosting employee morale. The site also makes it easy to opt for the customization, clearly explaining the no-hassle method of ordering personalized apparel.

Why it didn’t win a Gold Award: The judges felt that WearGuard missed its opportunity to cross-sell. It also needs to work on its online inventory management. If an item is unavailable, the site doesn’t notify the customer until after the product is placed in the shopping cart. It also doesn’t provide additional information as to if the item is on backorder, and if or when it might become available again. “If it is simply that the site no longer carries the item, it should be taken off altogether,” grumbled a panelist.

Idea to steal: If you sell — or would like to sell — large quantities of multiple items, take a look at WearGuard’s Step Saver feature. This allows buyers to easily order multiple colors and sizes of the same product, speeding up the checkout process. And any time you can shave time off the ordering process you are sure to decrease abandonment rates and inspire larger orders.

CONSUMER SOFT GOODS

Gold Award

eBags

www.ebags.com
Marketing director: Peter Cobb
Webmaster: Mike Frazzini
Website designer: Keith Bristol

For eBags, the Gold Award was, well, in the bag. As one panelist said, “This site follows the best of all Web practices.” Every aspect of this site, which sells everything bags — from pocketbooks and PDA cases to backpacks and rolling luggage — provides a shopping experience that is fun and easy.

Why it won a Gold Award: Again and again, the judges talked about the unbeatable navigation. From the minute you arrive on the eBags home page, said one judge, “the layout and eye flow provide quick paths to fulfilling your order.” And this ease of use applies to both casual browsers and shoppers with a specific product in mind.

The merchandising mix of well-known brands and proprietary products earned praise as well. And the judges raved about eBags’ cross-selling techniques. On the right side of each product page additional items are presented under the courteous heading “May we also suggest.” The merchandise suggested complements or coordinates with the main item on the page perfectly, creating a true value-added experience. “It is not just, ‘Let’s get customers to spend more,’” said a judge. “The choices are logical and appealing.” To further simplify shopping amid the wealth of merchandise, eBags offers an easy-to-use comparison feature.

The site design is “top-notch,” said one panelist, and the others agreed. The site displays “good use of real estate without becoming overwhelming,” praised another judge. EBags also makes a point of promoting its guarantee, gift cards, corporate sales feature, and other service functions prominently yet unobtrusively.

Idea to steal: The “estimated arrival date” feature on every product page, which gives customers the date they can expect the item to arrive. This is especially helpful for eBags customers who may be preparing to travel and need products in a timely fashion, but it could surely enhance the customer experience on any site.

Silver Award

Dutch Gardens

www.dutchgardens.com
Marketing director: Jim Feinson
Webmaster: Jeff Govoni
Website designer: Susan Romanoff
Merchandiser: Max Harris
Copywriter: David Grist
Consultants: Kathy LaLiBerte, Chris Thompson

A-bloom with striking images, inspiring editorial, and special offers, the Dutch Gardens site has true flower power — and a Silver Award to show for it.

Why it won a Silver Award: The home page of the Dutch Gardens site seduces visitors with vivid photos of brightly hued flowers and sells them with more than a half-dozen bundled offers, such as “Holland’s Finest Tulip Collection” and “Mixed Daffodil Bargain Bag.” Indeed, “this site sells right from the home page which is a clear benefit,” said one judge. The tagline, “The Dutch Gardens Difference: Top Size, Top Quality, Top Value,” is displayed in the center of the page, with navigational tabs and links equally prominent. Said another panelist, “They define their mission — product front and center, with editorial off to the side.”

That’s not to say that judges weren’t wowed by the value-added editorial content. To establish authority you need to know your niche, and with articles such as “Got Deer? Get Daffodils!” and “How to Ensure Repeat Bloom,” Dutch Gardens demonstrates its knowledge. The site’s navigation also reflects Dutch Gardens’ expertise, with links to sections featuring plants for dry regions and deer-resistant offerings, among others.

Why it didn’t win a Gold Award: The judges felt it was a shame that Dutch Gardens buries its customer service link in the footer. And while the panelists loved the zone finder — just plug in your zip code to find out how hardy your terrain is — several felt that the marketer should have used it to promote plants suited for those zones.

Idea to steal: The site displays its Catalog Quick Order link on the top of the site, where it’s tough to miss. This function makes it easy for catalog shoppers to quickly interact with the site and encourages users to input their catalog key code, which will no doubt help Dutch Gardens better gauge its marketing efforts.

Silver Award

Orvis

www.orvis.com
Marketing director: John S. Rogers
Webmaster: Ed Ralbovsky
Website designers: Rob Cota, Tracey St. John
Merchandisers: Dawn Fisher, Tom Rosenbauer, Sheila Spurr
Copywriter: Tom Murray
Consultant: Competitive Computing

Orvis.com’s ability to sell a wide range of products is indeed a testament to the 147-year-old brand. So is its consistency online, agreed the judges.

Why it won a Silver Award: The appealing home page invites visitors into the site with clearly marked navigation bars. The product categories, like the photos, indicate the breadth of Orvis’s merchandise line, which includes men’s and women’s apparel, home decor items, and hunting gear. “The home page does its job of selling, but it also reinforces the lifestyle of the Orvis buyer,” said one judge.

The mix of lifestyle and product photography also impressed the panel. Showing the items in use — especially when it involves adorable Labradors nestling on cushy dog beds — is a key to selling both in print and online, said several panelists.

Offering so many kinds of products is a challenge — after all, there’s a vast difference between selling a washable linen dress and a fishing lure. But Orvis effectively tailors the copy to the product, sticking to more-traditional descriptions for apparel, for example, while providing technical specifics for much of the outdoor sporting gear.

Among the site’s more impressive selling tools are the customer recommendations on the product pages. And by allowing buyers to submit recommendations online, Orvis creates a community for fly fishers, hunters, and outdoor enthusiasts.

Why it didn’t win a Gold Award: Users could be tripped up by the site’s search engine. Typing in words such as “lure” and “bait” returned only one product suggestion each, when Orvis clearly has a lot more to offer.

Idea to steal: The Tent Sale section of the site sells limited quantities of overstocks and other inventory that the cataloger is trying to move. Prices on clearance items fall each week (eventually reaching a minimum price), which judges felt is an excellent and innovative way to move old and discontinued merchandise and to encourage repeat visits.

B-TO-B HIGH-TECH

Silver Award

GTSI

www.gtsi.com
Marketing director: Johnny Wilkinson
Webmaster: Denise Harrison
Website designer/consultant: NetCivics

The crisp, spare design of the GTSI site is easy to follow. And for buyers of IT equipment, who more typically deal with screens cluttered with specs and codes, what could be more refreshing?

Why it won a Silver Award: “Cleanliness is next to godliness” applies to Websites as well as people. This “very clean site handles a lot of elements in an organized way,” said one judge. Links on the left let users shop by product category, by brand, or by contract — the last option critical for the government agencies that account for much of GTSI’s sales. In this section, GTSI promotes cross-sell opportunities that fit within the contract — a masterful method of maximizing a customer relationship!

As for the merchandising, “this site has an amazing depth of product for such a specialized niche,” said one judge. By carrying software, hardware, and peripherals from manufacturers ranging from ACD Systems to Zoom Telephonics, GTSI gives customers no reason to seek out other sites for more brands.

Why it didn’t win a Gold Award: The load times were often slow — not good for a marketer targeting IT buyers. Also, the company may have taken its “less is more” approach too far in some places: Product pages for some high-ticket items provided little or no copy.

Idea to steal: The Solutions section details GTSI’s array of merchandise and service offerings in each product category. By proactively presenting end-to-end solutions, the site positions itself not as just a reseller of equipment but rather as a partner that can bring valuable expertise to the relationship.

CONSUMER HIGH-TECH

Silver Award

Crutchfield

www.crutchfield.com
Vice president, new media: Lawrence Becker
Vice president, information technology: Dave Dierolf
Vice president, creative: John Grant
Senior vice president, merchandising: Dan Hodgson
Vice president, marketing: Alan Rimm-Kaufman
Director of marketing systems: Chris Aultman
IT development director: Jeff Doner

When you factor in its amazing depth and breadth of product with intuitive merchandise categories and stellar customer service, it is easy to see why judges awarded Crutchfield.com a Silver.

Why it won a Silver Award: The panelists were unanimous: Crutchfield is a master of the consumer electronics product niche. “There is such a wide variety of brands and price points, which instills the customer with confidence,” said one judge. Indeed, from state-of-the-art televisions to car speakers, Crutchfield has it covered.

Judges also liked the multiple ways to search for items. Each product category is broken down into subcategories on the left navigation bar; additional options let you shop by brand, by new product, and by outlet. It tailors a broad site to regular shoppers, bargain shoppers, and new shoppers alike.

The site’s indexing product pages further facilitate shopping. When you arrive on a product page, a crisp image along with tabs of information let you retrieve as much or as little product information as you need. Also, “having a list of ‘key features’ and ‘supplied accessories’ reinforces the customers faith in ordering online, especially with high price points,” said a judge.

Finally, the judges were enthused by the many service elements, including multiple links to customer service and ordering policies, and the heavily promoted toll-free phone number. Clearly this company is focused on providing the best possible customer experience.

Why it didn’t win a Gold Award: True, Crutchfield caters to technophiles, but some judges felt that many of the pages were overloaded with content. “There is a lot of content to digest on each page,” said one judge. The overabundance of text could overwhelm some customers and even scare them off from making a purchase.

Idea to steal: A link on the home page lets new customers learn more about Crutchfield — a feature that no doubt turns many browsers into buyers. While many are no doubt aware of the company’s stellar reputation, it is nice to know that Crutchfield is not resting on its laurels.

CONSUMER HIGH-TECH

Silver Award

Musician’s Friend

www.musiciansfriend.com
Internet director: Eric Meadows
Webmaster: Christopher James
Website designers: Monica Devine, Justin Rubaloff, Thomas Beatty
Merchandisers: Craig Johnson, Al Dinardi
Copywriter: Dennis Kambury
Internet staff: Shane Irons, Shaun McDonald, Lisa Freitas, Josh Baxter, Bill Newman, Andrew Dubry, Erik Arneson, Erik Hollensbe, Jesse Williamson

When it comes to delivering on its promise to meet the needs of amateur and professional musicians alike, the Musician’s Friend site is truly a star.

Why it won a Silver Award: Even judges who normally criticize cluttered home pages praised that of Musician’s Friend. Bright colors and flashy graphics that add a sense of energy and fun complement the bounty of special offers, sales, promotions, and contests. In short, the home page “really works for this audience,” said one judge. Indeed, the promotions, along with the weekly columns and games featured in the FunZone, encourage potential pop idols and would-be rockers to return regularly.

Despite pages crammed with images and content, the site is remarkably well designed. The strong, comprehensive navigation bars at the top and the bottom of each page make it easy for visitors to move throughout the site. Nonselling editorial such as anagrams of musical artists and virtual drums no doubt inspire shoppers to cover a lot of ground while on the site.

If promotions and value-added content don’t convince you of the genius of this customer-centric site, just take a look at the sophisticated shopping cart, which makes it easy to drop items in and takes you through minimal steps when checking out.

Why it didn’t win a Gold Award: Judges felt that the home page could do a better job at promoting the company, and that Musician’s Friend should sell some products directly from the home page and leave some of the extra content to the other pages.

Idea to steal: The Match Any Price feature is, literally, unbeatable. For a company that relies on pricing to provide an edge on the competition, what better way to inspire buyers than to tell them that you guaranteed the lowest price — and then prove it?

CONSUMER INFORMATION AND SERVICES

Silver Award

Magellan’s

www.magellans.com
Marketing director: Eric Petersen
Webmaster: Michael Sadonski
Website designer: Multimedia Live

Proving that you don’t need flashy graphics or sound effects, Magellan’s has created a stellar site for its precisely defined merchandise niche: travel accessories and apparel.

Why it won a Silver Award: There is a lot to love about the Magellan’s site. Let’s start with the Shop by Destination link. If you’re traveling to, say, Japan, you want to make sure you have the correct electrical outlet converter; the Shop by Destination link eliminates the guesswork.

In fact, many judges were pleasantly surprised to find that they could locate the items they desired in no more than three clicks from just about anywhere on the Website. “It’s a swift site, allowing you to drill down to what you need,” said one judge.

But along the way, the company invests in editorial. The destination links, for example, include information about health risks and security concerns in addition to product copy. Succinct travel tips covering such topics as hotel security and copying important documents appear on virtually every page for even more value-added advice.

Why it didn’t win a Gold Award: The two-column design of the site, said the judges, makes it difficult to focus on the merchandise. “There is too much stuff on the page for this type of design,” said one panelist. The judges also thought the type font could stand improvement for greater readability. (Note: The site has since been redesigned.) And one page featured an upside-down photo, much to the judges’ dismay.

Idea to steal: With a world-class collection of travel tips, Magellan’s flaunts its authority while encouraging customers to purchase. “It’s impulse buying on the Web,” said one judge. “You don’t know you need the product until you read the cautionary tales of travel safety tips.”

Silver Award

Wilderness Travel

www.wildernesstravel.com
Marketing director: Barbara Banks
Webmaster: Shannon Hastings
Website designer: Dog & Bone Design
Copywriter: Pam Shandrick

You don’t have to venture too far into the Wilderness Travel site to know it’s going to be smooth sailing. With descriptive copy, brilliant colors, and a sense of authority, this site will transport you to its exotic locales and inspire you to sign up for an adventure in no time!

Why it won a Silver Award: Web photography is notoriously challenging, but Wilderness Travel manages to maintain its high graphic standards online. The scenic photography, lifestyle shots, and overall use of color reinforce the quality of the brand.

As much as the photos, the descriptions of the trips can easily transport readers to one of the exotic destinations. Just the introduction to a trip to the Galapagos Islands illustrates how Wilderness Travel captivates the buyer with copy: “Our glorious days on Darwin’s islands, where every island and outcrop seems a new world, are spent in pursuit of some of the world’s most extraordinary up-close wildlife viewing.”

For the more practical-minded customers, the site includes precise descriptions of trip activities, information about the knowledgeable tour leaders, and details regarding Wilderness Travel’s service policies and charges. Links take visitors to additional reading on the destination and routing maps of the trip. And the site enables customers to search not only by location, but by activity as well.

Why it didn’t win a Gold Award: Designwise, judges felt that Wilderness Travel went overboard with the number of fonts — the product copy uses one font, the logo another, and supplemental information others still. “There are too many competing on the page. They’re all nice, but there are way too many,” said one judge.

Idea to steal: Wilderness Travel’s Online Gallery features photos from previous journeys. It not only supports the company’s authority, but it also ensures that customers know what they can look forward to.
Profiles by Shayn Ferriolo

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