Online presence big and red

BY CLAIRE MCENTEE
Last updated 12:00 06/07/2009
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The Warehouse shop front
Fairfax Media
MOVING ONLINE: The Warehouse's online store has made a solid debut but the big red shed has room to improve.

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The Warehouse's online store has made a solid debut but the big red shed has room to improve, says an e-commerce specialist.

The retailer is now selling books, DVDs, CDs, gaming software and gift cards online and plans to add electronics and jewellery to the line-up in the next few months.

The Warehouse multi-channel development head Richard Harrison says orders are steady and the company is pleased with the site's performance, despite a half-hour outage when it launched 10 days ago.

"We have had about 500,000 unique visitors to the website each month and that is continuing to build. Some of those visits are converting [to sales] but as expected it's a low level at the moment."

Stefan Korn, director of Webfund - an incubator for web start-ups - and an e-commerce analyst, says the online store is easy to use and clearly laid out.

"But there are some opportunities they've missed. There was nothing there for first- timers who haven't visited the site before to show them around.

"It's also slightly confusing with the way they've presented content. There's a catalogue and some items have labels that say 'bundle offer' or 'instore only' - it's confusing as an online experience. You need to have a filter, so you can see just the stuff that's available online."

The Warehouse should look to add interactive "Web 2.0" features, such as a forum for customers to discuss products and live search - which would mean search results appear while customers are typing keywords in, he says.

"It's slightly conservative in look and feel and features.

"But it's a good move by The Warehouse. The timing is good. It's an economic downturn and they now have time on their hands to get it right for when things pick up again."

Mr Harrison says since the online store's launch The Warehouse has made some back-end improvements to the system and will introduce new features for customers in the coming months.

"Customers will be able to sort through products differently. As they click on department categories there will be further drop-down menus that will allow them to sort by brands, price ranges and other filters relevant to the category."

The Warehouse intends to add interactive features for customers but the focus has been on getting the basics right, he says.

The retailer deliberately chose a website model that would reduce confusion over which products were and were not available online.

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"'It's an area we are conscious of but it will become less of an issue as we bring more products online."

The outage on launch day was caused by a "very minor" software code update and The Warehouse is still investigating why it happened, he says.

Chief executive Ian Morrice said in three to five years the online store's annual turnover would at least match that of one its largest stores - which pull in between $35 million and $50m a year.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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