SiteLines: HBC.com

In this regular feature, Strategy Direct + Interactive asks an interactive marketing expert to give us his or her candid assessment of a Web site selected by us. This month, Sonia Carreno, associate media director at Toronto-based digital marketing agency Modem...

In this regular feature, Strategy Direct + Interactive asks an interactive marketing expert to give us his or her candid assessment of a Web site selected by us. This month, Sonia Carreno, associate media director at Toronto-based digital marketing agency Modem Media Canada, tells us what she thinks of the new HBC.com e-commerce Web site.

Description:

Soft-launched just before Christmas, the new HBC.com e-commerce Web site represents the first attempt by Canada’s oldest retail organization to bring together the brand strengths of its Bay and Zellers store brands. The $15-million online endeavour also provides Hudson’s Bay Co. one of its first real opportunities to benefit from the meshing of the customer databases of its two store chains – an undertaking that began last summer when the company signed a technology alliance with the Canadian units of Microsoft, IBM and Oracle Corp.

Featuring a searchable menu of about 5,000 items, from both Zellers and Bay product assortments, all purchases on the HBC.com site are eligible for Club Z or Air Miles reward points. Product returns, meanwhile, can be sent by mail to HBC.com or brought in person to any Bay, Zellers or Zellers Select store, where they will be exchanged or refunded. According to HBC, the company expects 3-5% of its total sales to come from the online environment within the next three to four years.

Sonia Carreno

Associate Media Director, Modem Media Canada

When visiting HBC.com, I was surprised to see the Bay and Zellers logos on the site’s splash page, given that these are both well-established retail brands and that they each have their own brand equity and unique consumers. I wonder if the dual branding delivers an overall net benefit to the individual brands?

Once you get past that, the HBC.com homepage is crisp and well organized, consistent with the bright new HBC.com logo. However, the ‘featured products’ section limits itself by showcasing a massive toaster and other related products. Further, it’s not clear to the consumer why the products are ‘featured.’

Technically, HBC.com shows refreshing promise for personalization and I assume that one day it will dynamically pull features, category structure and even layout to reflect personal preferences such as special offers on frequently purchased products or reminders to restock on cosmetics.

Like every other online store, the site begs for personal information in exchange for membership. I can appreciate a good loyalty strategy, but on HBC.com, the membership benefits are unclear and don’t necessarily entice me to shop.

The commerce engine is smooth and I like the cool, user-friendly shopping basket. Buying feels secure and very straightforward. I love the option to phone in the order!

Overall, the site has tremendous potential to become a major player in the Canadian online retail marketplace. For now, I would give it a 3.5 out of 5. I am curious to see how The Bay and Zellers plan to differentiate their individual brands online. With so much brand equity, it would be a shame to see their loyal shoppers searching for a bricks-and-mortar version of HBC.com.