Radio Shack upgrades site to increase promo power

RadioShack‘s Web site is actually just its own little store located in the company’s warehouse. It even prints out receipts, much like one you’d receive if you walked into any RadioShack outlet.

For Barrie, Ont.-based RadioShack

Canada Ltd., its Web site isn’t so much an end unto itself as a way to continually encourage traffic into its brick and mortar storefronts, according to Margo Weeks, vice-president of information systems. “”The big push is to get customers into the store,”” says Weeks. “”It’s been designed that way, it works well that way.””

“”Incidental revenue we get off the site is gravy,”” adds David Mack, director of dealer sales and alternative channels.

To drive more in-store traffic, the retailer relaunched its site about six weeks ago using Microsoft‘s Commerce Server 2002 as a platform. The site was originally brought online in September 1999 using Microsoft Site Server products.

The new Commerce Server has been generally available for three weeks, but RadioShack began testing it last October. In December the work began in earnest — with Microsoft Canada and Compaq Canada consultants on board — to relaunch the site. Compaq also supplied Himalaya servers and StorageWorks products.

Commerce Server 2002 offers several improvements over its predecessor the 2000 edition, including a framework based on Microsoft’s .Net technology and Visual Studio integration, and the ability to move decision-making power over site content from IT staff to management. That enables managers to change on-site promotions and featured products without having to go through IT first. “”We can change the homepage SKUs on the fly as we see fit,”” says Mack.

RadioShack only began looking at its Web site as a way to increase in-store sales last year, says Mack. The site receives about 12,000 unique visitors a day, he says, but customers will always be better served in-store since staff can answer technical questions and suggest accessories. The retailer has gone to pains to make sure that the site looks much like the flyers customers can pick up in stores. It also features a store locator, so shoppers can find the closest RadioShack that stocks the product they’re looking for.

But despite this renewed focus, RadioShack still doesn’t really understand the relationship between Web and store. “”Just when we think we have it figured out, we don’t. We haven’t really established a link between putting a product online and selling it in stores,”” says Mack. “”A lot of it is targeting and playing around with those products on the site.””

“”But it’s always good to give your customers an alternative,”” says Weeks. “”We just like to offer customers any channel they can get. . . . They’ll sometimes come in (to stores) with a shopping list they’ve printed out from the site.””

The technology really doesn’t exist to provide a proof-positive relationship between stores and Internet, says Robert Wood, the Microsoft consultant who assisted with the site’s relaunch. “”We can get a feeling as to the sense of activity, (but) there’s no technical link, unfortunately.””

Commerce Server 2002 is designed to fit into a suite of Microsoft Internet business products, says Carol Terentiak, Microsoft Canada’s senior product manager for commerce platform: Content Management Server, Windows 2000 Server, Internet Security and Acceleration Server, BizTalk Server, and Microsoft’s database SQL Server.

Commerce Server can link up with rival databases, like Oracle’s 9i or IBM’s DB2, but with reduced efficiency, admits Wood. The analytics piece of Commerce Server isn’t compatible with those products. RadioShack has yet to use the analytics, but that is usually one of the last stages of installation, says Wood.

For the first time, Commerce Server is available in two editions: standard, priced at US$6,999 per CPU (with a limit of two CPUs); and enterprise, for US$19,999 per CPU (unlimited CPUs).

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