February 23, 2004
How do you get consumers to trust you enough to purchase a high-priced commodity, such as a diamond ring, from your site if you're not a famous brand name?
Learn how ice.com builds consumer trust, while relying on direct response ads (not brand marketing) to deliver site traffic.
In its early days, ice.com was at the center of the late nineties online start-up boom, even spending time as part of the IdeaLab! family.
But unlike so many of its contemporaries, ice.com didn't melt in the post-boom return to reality. Instead, it's become one of the leading online jewelry retailers, with strong growth and profits.
COO Moshe Krasnanski won't spend money on any marketing and acquisition unless the results are measurable, and acquisition costs can be recouped with the first sale.
Krasnanski says, "We will never lose money on the first sale hoping that we'll make money on the second sale."
So where does that leave branding, an important issue for a company with ice.com's size and presence?
Krasnanski accepts there are branding elements to some of the advertising the company does, but the decision to buy that advertising is based entirely on the likely sales generated - any branding value is a bonus.
"If we'll be somewhere in a great spot but we can't measure in any way sales or we know we won't get any sales but it'll be great brand building, we won't do it."
This leaves ice.com's marketing to focus on two areas. First, measurable tactics that drive a direct sales response. Second, the website customer experience, both to drive conversions AND to build sales, awareness and - yes - the ice.com brand through the word of mouth generated by happy customers.
Ice.com doesn't really do any offline marketing..."You'll find us only online...so we're there when you're able to press the button and make a purchase." Their online ads are aimed at appearing, "in the places where people buy." Two key examples...
-- Search engines (through traditional SEO and PPC)
There's a full-time marketer managing the PPC marketing, tracking each keyword/SE combination and measuring its conversion rate, cost per click, and ROI, and then adjusting bids accordingly.
Krasnanski stresses that this monitoring process must be continuous as the performances of each keyword/location combination change through the year.
As you'd expect, ice.com is present in the jewelry and watch shopping pages of major portals, but also sometimes pays for placement on the front pages. How does this square with the no- branding direct response philosophy?
In such circumstances, they'll advertise an item retailing at between $50 and $95, and offer a one-day-only special price, exclusive to that portal site. The aim is to encourage an impulse buy, something rare in the jewelry world.
Krasnanski says a really hot offer pulls in a lot of lookers, and despite conversion rates which may be less than half the usual, the resultant total sales still justify the cost of the promotion.
Next, ice.com's website works hard to drive visitor-to-buyer conversions.
One tactics that helps is the site's financing program which allows customers to pay over a series of three to five payments (the first payment goes with the initial order), without incurring any interest or other charges.
According to Krasnanski, it gives, "the customer the ability to buy a piece of jewelry which they could afford if they pay over a few months but can't afford to pay in one shot. And customers love it. People use it and we get tremendous feedback about it."
However, the biggest challenge faced by online jewelers is namely the inherent non-branded nature of jewelry.
Krasnanski explains, "If someone sees an earring on our site and somewhere else, the question they ask themselves is...are they going to be the same or not, meaning are these guys for real? A lot more questions that you don't have elsewhere because there's just no branding."
Which is why so much of ice.com's website is dedicated to building trust, for example...
-- certification and security links
The site provides easily accessible links to, among others...
* information on the certificate of authenticity that comes with each piece of jewelry
* BizRate.com's certification for ice.com, which includes ratings or reviews from over 25,000 customers
* The BBBOnLine Reliability seal and Better Business Bureau information
* Info on the Jewelers Vigilance Committee (ice.com is a member)
-- security reassurances
Each product page bears the message, "Shopping with ICE is safe - Guaranteed" with a link to information about transaction security. If you call ice.com on the phone, you hear similar reassurances in the telephone hold messages.
-- extensive product-related information
Krasnanski says, "We try to give the customer as much information as they need to be able to make the purchase, to understand the product, to understand our processes, and to understand when they should expect the product." Which means large product images, detailed technical specifications and similar.
-- company information and disclosure
Contact links and the company telephone number appear prominently throughout the site. "We don't hide our phone number, we don't hide our address."
There's also plenty of background on the company itself, and - just as important from a trust perspective - the senior employees, including their personal email addresses (which work - we tried).
"We try to look like the corner store jeweler, where you feel comfortable, trust us, see that we've been around."