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How to differentiate yourself in e-commerce

April 1, 2005

If you happen to be selling the same product sold by many other websites and other countless retail outlets, how do you differentiate yourself and earn long-term customer loyalty?

That's the challenge facing Scentiments, a South Florida-based site that sells designer perfumes like Elizabeth Arden, Givenchy, and Perry Ellis.

"Our product is available everywhere," says Scentiments CEO Howard Wyner. "Our customers are pretty knowledgeable they've done their homework and they know what they want."

Yet even with its commonly available inventory, Scentiments has succeeded in capturing noses (and the customers who come with them). Launched with basic e-commerce capability in 1998, the site now sees annual revenue near $9 million.

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Price, of course, is the prime attraction. "People will go to Bloomingdale's to buy a shirt and they'll get hit with this perfume 'now, let me go home and see where I can get it online,'" Wyner explains.

To reach this market, Scentiments is a deep discounter. But the site does more to earn customers than slashing retail mark-ups. In addition to cheap prices, the site "backs it up with customer satisfaction," Wnyner says, noting that, "repeat business, in this industry, is the most important facet."

Scentiments' return policy is more generous than the industry standard, Wyner says. "If you bought something two months ago and you never used itwe'll take it back and give you your money back, as long as it's in the same saleable condition."

He stresses the site's ease of navigation, and indeed, the site's 4,500 skus are laid out with utter simplicity, alphabetically. And if an item is out of stock, a customer can enter their e-mail address, and the site assures them that it will be available within five days. "We always keep our customers informed about where their order is."

Scentiments' home page features simple navigation, a 1-800 customer service number and its BiaRate award.

The site displays Scentiments' BizRate award, "so customers can click to see how 50,000 plus customers have rated us over the years."

Scentiments keeps shipping rates reasonable: it charges $4.99 for 1 or 2 items, and $5.99 for 3 or more. "We lose on our shipping, there's no way around it, but we've found that this was the price point for us to offer the value," he says.

Wyner has placed Scentiments in many shopping outlets, from Yahoo to MSN. Due to the site's low prices, he sees this visibility as a necessary part of his strategy.

"We're selling stuff that customers can't believe if it retails for $100 and we're selling it for $45," there's a level of customer skepticism, he says. However, "If they see me in every place they look, they'll get a level of comfort."

Also helping increase customer comfort is the site's accessibility. It maintains a toll free number for phone orders seven days a week (10 to 15 percent of orders are over the phone) and it responds rapidly to e-mail within the hour during the business day, Wyner says. Orders are shipped same day.

Scentiments keeps a fragrance guru on hand (it's actually a number of employees). In addition to answering questions about scents the best fragrances for spring and summer, for example the guru answers any shopper query. "He knows all, sees all, and he helps all," Wyner says. (In fact Wyner takes on the fragrance guru job at times.)

If a customer has a problem, "we want them to call us, we want them to speak to a real person."

Wyner sees the site's approach as "a New Age Internet company with the old school philosophy of talking with our customers."

Source: eCommerce Guide

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