HPshopping.com Puts Customers in Charge

Since its launch three years ago, HPshopping.com has learned a lot about its customers. Now it is putting that knowledge to use in influencing both the look and feel of its site and the products it offers.

HPshopping.com, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based subsidiary of Hewlett-Packard Co., began in 1997 as the HP Outlet Center, with the modest goal of establishing a channel for selling refurbished HP printers to consumers.

Soon, user feedback and tracking of user behavior told the company that customers wanted not only more products for sale but more information about products. HPshopping.com realized that the site was too limited in scope. The challenge was to create an e-commerce site that would attract new customers while strengthening relationships with existing customers.

Today HPshopping.com sells HP's entire line of consumer-oriented products--desktop and notebook PCs, printers, scanners, handheld devices and calculators--as well as refurbished items. It has not sought to attract customers through widespread advertising, but rather has grown largely by consumers who have found the site through HP while shopping on the Web, according to Mike Bridge, chief operating officer of HPshopping.com.

staying Focused

Rather than relying on new technologies to push its sales, HPshopping.com has remained focused on the proven strategy of giving customers the feeling that they are driving the site experience, not being driven by it.

Lynne Harvey, senior analyst at the Patricia Seybold Group, an e-business consulting and research firm in Boston, speaks of the importance of building a base of "customer intelligence," the strategies and tools employed to understand customers. "The goal is... to build a series of profitable relationships with customers," says Harvey.

HPshopping.com tries to learn from both direct and indirect customer feedback by gathering more information about customers exhibiting surprising behavior, Bridge says.

In getting closer to customers, HPshopping.com uses both technology and traditional tools. Technologically, the core its business currently runs on the One-to-One product suite from BroadVision of Redwood City, Calif. The applications One-to-One Enterprise and One-to-One Commerce aid Web site development and modification as well as customer relationship management (CRM).

Bridge also looks for appropriate new technology. The company recently began using Log Analyzer from WebTrends of Portland, Ore., to analyze traffic sources and some aggregated behavior, as well as data extraction tools that pull together information from various sources.

But Bridge doesn't rely on software alone to make key decisions. "You can make a great deal of progress with low-tech applications," he says. The company incorporates traditional feedback mechanisms such as including a set of satisfaction questionnaire cards when the order is shipped to customers. Bridge reports a return rate of 10 to 20 percent and claims that 97 percent of respondents say they would recommend the site to a friend.

HPshopping.com also maintains a comments area staffed by people who evaluate and respond to customer feedback. The 80-employee company employs a customer satisfaction manager to spot problem areas on the site, in customer service and in order fulfillment. "Once we find the hot spots, we try to engage some customers in dialogue," says Bridge. If appropriate, the satisfaction manager follows up via email or telephone with customers who have problems.

In addition, the company has organized a customer experience group that sifts through feedback and proposes changes to the site.

Connecting With Other Dots

HPshopping.com outsources its fulfillment logistics and its call center so the site can focus on its core business and customers. The BroadVision software is integrated with the outsourced systems so that, as information passes from the HPshopping.com Web site to the call center or FedEx, the customer agent is kept up to date on transactions and informed about the customer's interests.

BroadVision's user profiling technology also enables HPshopping.com to implement cross-marketing strategies. "[Knowing what] products are being bought at the same time... helps us in positioning products that are related," says Bridge.

HPshopping.com monitors customer behavior and trends and, based on that information, formulates strategies and goals for obtaining additional information. "One of the big questions we all have to ask ourselves is what kind of information we want to collect about customers," says Bridge. "We sit down and think through what information would be most valuable."

In addition to using customer data itself, HPshopping.com passes feedback on what Bridge calls "the product experience," ranging from packaging to product design to support, back to its parent company. The dot-com also provides HP with information on unmet demand, based on feedback from users who cannot find certain products that they want to buy. Such information can help HP to develop whole new categories of products.

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