Jason Friedman, vice president of e-commerce for J&R Electronics, became a champion of Internet retailing not long after joining his parents' company in 1997 as database manager. At the time, the family-owned business was doing just fine selling an enormous array of consumer electronics from its landmark 250,000-plus-square-foot mega-store in lower Manhattan and via catalog orders.
Even so, in 1998 Jason Friedman convinced the store's foundershis parents, Joe and Rachelle Friedman, thus the "J" and "R"to make a commitment to the Web, specifically to early versions of an e-commerce software solution from InterWorld Corp., then one of the darlings of the dot-com boom. The first foray into Web salesby one estimate, about 30% of J&R's approximately $400 million in revenue is currently derived from its online channelwas successful enough that e-commerce is now seen as the company's future.
Today, to secure that future, Jason Friedman and an information-technology team of 50 are rolling out an ambitious relaunch of the JR.com Web site. The initiative is based on a new e-commerce platform from Blue Martini; an on-demand CRM suite from Loyalty Lab, a relationship and retention-marketing vendor; and some of the features that characterize Web 2.0, notably online videos and user participation in the form of customer reviews. If all goes as planned, the revamped site, scheduled to go up this month, will make it easier for customers to evaluate, compare and purchase products.
"We're giving customers the capabilities and features that they want," Jason Friedman says. In turn, J&R is hoping to lock in customer loyalty, leverage many of the strengths that have made its brick-and-mortar business so successful over the years, and differentiate itself in the crowded, increasingly price-driven consumer electronics market dominated by the big chains and franchises.
It won't be a cakewalk by any means. "Their national and retail competitors are pretty tough," says Maris Daugherty, senior consultant, multi-channel practice with global retail consultancy J.C. Williams Group; the firm does not consult for J&R.
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