Your Real Online Competition? EVERYONE
A Look at a Few of the Very Best Web Sites And What You Can Learn from Them
The early 1990s found me working at Alfred Publishing, and I remember Alfreds Danny Rocks saying that music stores who compare their operations only to other music stores may be lured into a false sense of achievement. Rocks, who now heads a consulting firm, The Company Rocks, made this point:
Customers dont distinguish between music store A and music store B, he said. They do, however, compare one shopping experience to another. So if your store has a better layout, has more appealing displays, and you merchandise better than your immediate music store competitor, its not enough. The customer who comes to your store has just been to Best Buy and is now going to Borders before heading for Restoration Hardware. The shopping experience you provide is — fair or not — being compared to those retailers. The customer doesnt differentiate, so the level of shopping experience we need to strive for is actually much higher than we may think.
Now in the age of the Internet, its all that times infinity.
The respected e-commerce magazine Internet Retailer recently put together a noteworthy list in an article titled Best of the Web: The Top 50 Leading Web Sites. I thought seven of their top 50 had features and elements we could learn from and maybe even be inspired by.
Am I saying it is fair to compare a single 4,000-square-foot music retail store to an operation like The Gap? No, its not fair. But neither is life, love, business, or the Internet. Ill appeal to our musician side. We listen to and copy Coltrane, Clapton, etc., not with the idea of necessarily surpassing them, but of getting closer to our potential. Its with that spirit I hope youll sit at the computer and go down this list with me.
What a comfortable site. Despite a mind-boggling selection, they choose a simple, main image for the front page that is always inviting and never overwhelms. Coupons are a frequent component, as is the encouragement to shop in store or online. Its treating both the online presence and the brick-and-mortar stores for what they are equals. Most important, they figured out that precise shoe-industry terms — like slip-on loafers being called moccasins in the trade — might be lost on their customers. This is something we can do better at: thinking like novice customers and not assuming they are completely educated in technical terms. Famous Footwears development of an on-site search engine that uses the customers language has contributed to its success.
Nordstrom doesnt bother with the riff-raff and neer-do-wells, but aggressively goes after the demographic that wants to be pampered with a classy shopping experience. And Nordstrom provides for those people, and those who aspire to be those people, handsomely. Notice the clean, simple fonts, the white space, the way the products are presented. Nordstrom has mastered the tone, and takes nothing for granted. Many sites have a sign-in section. But Nordstrom asks: Would you like to sign in? Why yes, Jeeves, I think I shall. This would be a great approach for the boutique music store specializing in high-end guitars and amps.
Polo.com (Ralph Lauren)
What do video clips offering golf tips have to do with selling shirts? Or for that matter, what does a country home with snow falling on it have to do with selling pants? Everything. Ralph Lauren has successfully positioned itself as a lifestyle as opposed to a store that is merely a haberdashery. Stores in our field that successfully exploit the fact that were not selling widgets but, rather, a lifestyle do better in building customer loyalty. (Id like to note with great interest that you, like me, have noticed the increasing proliferation of musical instruments, specifically guitars, being used in lifestyle-type ads for other industries. On this site for example youll find a Sheryl Crow interview.)
What a great model. I first bumped into these people when I absolutely had to have the first edition of a long-out-of-print book on axe-murderer Lizzy Borden (dont ask). When it came up on my Google search, I assumed it was some obscure small bookstore. AbeBooks successfully perpetuated that myth with its personal touch in customer service and impressive ability to email me in well-crafted, personal notes about other titles I might be interested in. I was surprised to learn, after seeing the name on Internet Retailers list, that it is a huge international company. This site offers great tools like the LibraryThing for avid book readers and other programs for enthusiasts to gather with other like-minded souls.
At one time in my life, in LA, I saw at least 49 movies a year in a theater. Now, with two young boys under five, I see maybe four? Netflix has dug its claws into me and kept me because of its ability to make the seemingly isolated act of going online and renting movie a social event. The ability to successfully pull off the if you liked that, then youll like this is the envy of the industry and creates a customer/retailer bond that grows with each purchase. The fact that they have a cool one million dollars on the table to someone (you?) who can come up with an even better tool to do that says a lot.
Dell has mastered two things that are relevant to the MI retail business: the company understands the Web is the best tool to provide customers with an infinite combination of products and services; and, two, said consumers love choices. Visit the site and let it walk you through putting together a computer and notice that at every step there are more suggestions and options that are really well-designed motivators for more features and add-ons. You come away with an extremely positive and downright fun shopping experience, and Dell most likely comes away with a thicker bottom line. Think how fun it would be for someone to put their own specs on a guitar, with different amp and pedal options
This niche site for animal lovers allows you to click onto the picture of the squeaky toy to hear how it sounds. Why cant we do that for our instruments? Something else to notice about this site is that on almost every product display page there are several articles about whatever the topic is just another click away. If youre on the dog toy page, there are three articles: Choose the Right Dog Toys, Great Home Alone Dog Toys, Dog Toys for Outdoor Activities. Its clean, easy to get to, and successfully positions itself as the expert in the field. Of course all those articles lead to higher search engine rankings, too.
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On sites that are especially successful and inspiring, I sign up for their e-mail and monitor their approach. There is a lot to be learned from these success stories, and spending time on them can provide you with fresh eyes when looking at your own site. Because its not good enough that you have the best Web site in town for music instrument stores. Those surfing the net are comparing yours to these sites in terms of looks, convenience, and friendliness.
One final observation: Out of 50 of the top 50 sites, do you know how many have music playing on them when they open? Zero. Its longstanding pet peeve of mine that while it seems natural as breathing to have some snazzy music when people come to your music retail site, its annoying and amateurish for any visitor who visits more than once and visiting more than once is certainly the point.