The i.merchant 40

Many of the companies that make up the i.merchant 40 listing of the top online marketers aren’t household names – unless your household consists of electronics engineers. Manufacturers and distributors of technical and industrial components such as Ingram Micro, Marshall Industries, and Tech Data Corp. account for the top slots on the chart. In fact, at number 13, Amazon.com is the first consumer marketer on the i.merchant 40.

The dominance of technical and computer companies among online catalogers is no surprise. For starters, their target market was using the Web at a time when many consumers had yet to click on a mouse. What’s more, computers and networking equipment cost appreciably more than, say, books and apparel, so it stands to reason that sales of such items would total more than the revenue from many consumer goods. And finally, companies like $26.27 billion Intel (number 2 on the list) and $81.67 billion IBM (number 3) had the resources and the inhouse know-how to create effective e-commerce systems.

But while only 13 of the companies on the list sell exclusively to consumers, and while the average total annual revenue of the companies is roughly $9 billion, smaller catalogers and consumer marketers can still pick up pointers from the big guys. So on the following pages, in addition to the i.merchant 40 listing, we’ll look at a few of the features that make these companies’ Websites so successful.

On the home computing section of its site, computer chip behemoth Intel includes icons next to technical terms (such as “sound card”) in its product descriptions and editorial content. When users click on one of the icons, a definition of the term pops up. If your market – be it needlecrafts, gardening, or graphic design – has its own jargon, pop-up definitions could make your site more welcoming to novices and prospects.

Why make customers submit an order before revealing the shipping and handling charges? On the nonauction portion of its site, Onsale includes the S&H price ranges (the final charge depends on the shipping address) for UPS Ground, 2 Day Air, and Next Day Air on the bottom of each product page.

Apple Computer goes beyond the basic onsite search engine: In addition to a pulldown menu enabling users to select the type of product they’re looking for, it offers a pulldown menu so that shoppers can also narrow their search within a price range.

Fellow computer marketer NECX lets users search by model name, manufacturer, product category, catalog number, or manufacturer part number.

Through July, computer giant Dell was sponsoring the “Search for the Oldest PC”: The small business with the oldest PC in use would win a Dell server and desktop and notebook computers. Not only does a contest like that generate good will, but it can also garner publicity.

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