JCK Show: Basic marketing principles still apply on the Web

When it comes to promoting your store and selling product on the Internet, the learning curve is huge, and you can expect to make mistakes. But basic marketing principles still apply, said Adrianne Geppert, director of marketing at Borsheim’s Fine Jewelry and Gifts, Omaha, Neb.

At her seminar on Thursday at The JCK Show ~ Las Vegas, Geppert discussed “what worked and didn’t work” during development of an online presence on the Internet. Geppert arrived at Borsheim’s in 1999, “right in the middle of the Internet craze,” she said. The jeweler had an online presence in 1996, but it was primarily an informational site. With a tiny budget, Geppert redesigned the site with e-commerce capabilities, launched it in June of ’99, and was shocked at how quickly online sales took off. The site underwent another transformation and relaunched a few months later with elaborate graphics that gave visitors to the site the experience of being in Borsheim’s store. There were 100,000 pieces of jewelry available on the site.

Geppert quickly learned that less is more. Visitors to the site had problems downloading the graphics, and most weren’t really interested in the store experience. Geppert also learned that there were too many products on the site.

She refocused the site, making it easy for visitors to use and purchase product. In addition, she limited inventory to best-selling products and brought jewelry photography in house.

“Having 100,000 pieces of jewelry was ridiculous,” Geppert told the audience. “We limited our pieces to what people were buying and gave them better images. And what they were buying were basic diamond products like diamond stud earrings and gifts, gifts, gifts.”

A totally unanticipated problem for the online operation was a fear among the Borsheim’s sales staff that the Web site was going to replace their jobs. “They felt that every click was one of their customers,” Geppert said.

Despite the challenges, sales and customers grew beyond their targets. Geppert also said that 85% of the customers were not regular store customers. Their conversion rate was very high. And slowly, salespeople began to accept the Web site.

One of the original reasons for creating a strong online presence was the fear that “pure-play” e-commerce sites were taking their store business. But that fear never materialized, Geppert said.

Advertising the Web site was another issue. The company decided not to advertise on search engines. Geppert discovered that advertising the Web site was largely ineffective. Instead, she has a person whose responsibility is to make sure the site is positioned near the top of Web search engines when potential customers do Web searches.

Geppert also found e-mail marketing to be successful, as long as customers give their permission and it is not overused. “My response rates are out of sight,” she said.