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3 Companies With Great Online Stores

By Andrew Marder - Apr 2, 2013 at 6:00PM

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There's more to selling online than just having a storefront; you have to make people want to buy.

Making money online requires more than just having a pretty face. Companies spend millions of dollars tracking customers and testing designs to make sure that visitors can find everything they're looking for -- plus some things they weren't. Good stores also convey the feeling of the physical store, giving customers a consistent shopping experience. An online store can boost a company's revenue like a rocket, if it's done right. While there are some obvious online dominators -- and eBay come to mind -- there are some other brands doing excellent things to help you part with your cash. Here are three of the best.

's (NKE 1.47%) online store is a clean machine that focuses on recreating the feeling of design and innovation that Nike is known for. Customers can shop by sport or gender -- a division that I love to see -- and can easily jump between the two. Sliding buttons and bars are used to great effect, and never seem to get in the way of the shopping experience. I defy you to visit the site and not want to go for a run, play basketball, or at least watch sports.

The site has done great things for the bottom line, as well. Nike has had double-digit e-commerce revenue growth for five years. Last quarter, the company increased online sales by 33%, and still it talks about doing more. In its recent conference call, CEO Mark Parker said, "There's a pretty big gap between where e-commerce is today and where we can take it. So we're driving more innovation into the shopping experience, elevating the level of service and expanding customization online." If Nike is doing well now, be on the lookout for amazing.

Pottery Barn
If you need a new couch, or you just want to drop $300 on a sconce, Williams-Sonoma's (WSM -3.73%) Pottery Barn brand has you covered. The company's catalog has been a favorite with decorators for years, and the website reflects the same things that made the print version so enticing. Items are shown in situ, allowing customers to imagine how they would look in their own homes. You can also browse the site by type of room, product type, or function. The browsability of the whole thing almost assures that you'll stumble on something you like -- unless you just have bad taste.

Sales from e-commerce grew 16% last quarter and 15% over the last fiscal year for Williams-Sonoma. The company has touted the introduction of faceted navigation -- for example, the ability to look at rugs by size, color, and fabric -- and believes that the expansion of that style will help drive further increases in online sales. On its most recent earnings call, Williams-Sonoma said that one day it hopes to personalize every single visit to the website.

OK, I feel bad having lululemon athletica (LULU 1.04%) and Nike in the same list of only three sites, but they both deserve it. Lululemon is a company that wears its heart on its sleeve, and its website reflects that. As an example, the company, known for its synthetic fabrics, had an anti-leather April Fool's joke on the site. Even on a normal day, things look just like they do in a Lululemon store, where lots of natural tones and bright white light fill the shop. The company also invites customer reviews to help build community. Even when the reviews are poor, they leave them up for the world to see.

Lululemon has been in a fix recently, with see-through pants being recalled and this quarter's revenue in jeopardy. For all that, it still has a wonderful site to shop on. The company added $4.2 million to its revenue through e-commerce last quarter, which amounts to 9% of total revenue. That means that the company still has room to grow, and it's planning on leveraging its online store to help it expand overseas. If it can clear the quality-control issues that are in its way right now, online is going to play a huge role in its expansion.

The bottom line
Have a site you like to shop on? Let me know in the comments below, and perhaps it'll make it into the next round of great stores.

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Stocks Mentioned

Lululemon Athletica Inc. Stock Quote
Lululemon Athletica Inc.
$274.04 (1.04%) $2.82
NIKE, Inc. Stock Quote
NIKE, Inc.
$108.00 (1.47%) $1.56
Williams-Sonoma, Inc. Stock Quote
Williams-Sonoma, Inc.
$108.15 (-3.73%) $-4.19

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