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Tales From the Slopes

BY CSA STAFF

Steve Kopitz, owner and president of Birmingham, Mich.-based Don Thomas Sporthaus, brought 18 employees to the top of Blyme Mountain in Northern Michigan for the annual 2007 MRA Test Fest last February. Although the skiing-goods retailer attends Test Fest annually (a several-day event that allows retailers to preview, test and review the upcoming season’s latest winter-sports equipment) this year took a different turn.

After each of the employees flew down the mountain with a pair of test skis, which varied in brand, style and user-level, they met a videographer at the bottom to record a 30-second unscripted, unedited review. The testimonials were posted online in September—in time for the new season—at the retailer’s Web site, www.skis.com. These videos take typical online reviews to the next level.

“Buying an expensive item on a Web site can be scary,” Kopitz said. “If you’re going to be spending hundreds of dollars on a product like skis, you want it to be perfect for you. With so many high-quality skis now out in the market, it makes it difficult for consumers to narrow their choices.”

Don Thomas Sporthaus is owned by Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based Summit Sports, which operates 10 sporting-goods stores throughout the state under the Summit Sports banner and one under the Don Thomas banner. While Summit Sports sell a wide variety of sporting goods, Don Thomas Sporthaus caters to outdoor-sports enthusiasts with mid- to high-end ski, snowboard and inline-skate equipment, accessories and apparel. Since it is known for its ski merchandise, shoppers expect top-notch recommendations and tips from the sales team.

“Shoppers put a lot of faith into the salesperson because many skis look alike. They want as much information as possible in order to feel confident about making a purchase decision,” Kopitz said.

Most of the testers, who ranged from salespeople and store managers to professional ski instructors and slope patrollers, have advanced knowledge of ski equipment—and their honest reactions to their test skis show in each clip.

For example, one reviewer said, “This is the lightest ski I put on my foot all day. My initial reaction was that this would have chattering speed, but when I laid into my first turn, I was totally surprised and had the opposite reaction.” Another reviewer raved about the same product, but warned, “I wouldn’t recommend this one for the expert skier.”

“Many sites have reviews on them, but it’s hard to tell if the feedback is legit or not,” Kopitz said. “With a video, there is no doubt that they just tested the product. It becomes instantly more credible than written reviews.”

Since Don Thomas Sporthaus now provides more information about its products online, Kopitz decided to give customers access to the same insight while shopping in-store. If a shopper has an inquiry about a set of skis, a salesperson can wheel over a laptop station and show them a video review.

Not only are customers making more confident purchasing decisions, sales are up 156% year to date over last year, Kopitz said. And since posting the videos, Skis.com has received 20,000 unique visitors per week, which is an increase of 15% to 20% each week. The company is expecting 75,000 to 100,000 unique visitors per week in the peak season.

Looking ahead, Don Thomas Sporthaus plans to use the video testimonials on other products, too, from jackets to goggles. It plans to implement another online feature next year that asks shoppers a series of questions to pair them with the best product for their lifestyle, preferences and skills.

Kopitz said his team will be hitting Blyme Mountain once again in February 2008 to film, preview and review the latest in next year’s product offerings.

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CompUSA may get a new look

BY CSA STAFF

ADDISON, Tx. After opening a new format store last month, CompUSA may be changing the format of its other stores, depending on customer demand and product interest.

According to reports, the elements found in the prototype store, located in Texas, will be incorporated into other CompUSA locations across the United States.

The nearly 7,700 square-ft. relocation site includes an Apple shop featuring Mac computers, iPods and Apple accessories, and a full-length LCD TV wall.

Additional expansions include extended gaming, which includes an entire wall devoted to the Nintendo Wii, PlayStation3 and Xbox 360 gaming platforms, plus a PC gaming setup to test equipment and play new titles.

While businesses can get their share of support with a specialized services section, all consumers can visit the store’s redesigned IT support area.

“This new store aligns CompUSA’s vision to better serve its three core customers, the technology enthusiast, educated professional and small and medium businesses,” said Gabriela Villalobos, the retailer’s sales and operations evp.

CompUSA announced in April that it would narrow its focus to three core customer groups rather than try to serve a mass audience.

The move was part of a comprehensive restructuring, initiated last February, that included an overhaul of senior management and the closure of half its store base as the privately held chain looked to improve sales and profitability.

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Walgreens withdraws from CVS provider plans

BY CSA STAFF

DEERFIELD, Ill. After many months of talks over low and below-market payment rates by CVS Caremark for four prescription plans, Walgreens has withdrawn as a pharmacy provider from the plans.

Patients affected include members of prescription benefit plans managed by CVS Caremark for ArcelorMittal, Johnson Controls, Progressive Casualty Insurance and Wisconsin Education Association Trust.

Most of the affected members live in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Trent Taylor, president of Walgreens Health Services, the managed care division of Walgreens, released the following statement:

“This is not where we wanted negotiations to lead,” he said. “We’re sorry that our pharmacy patients and CVS Caremark’s clients are caught in the middle, and we’ll do all we can to ensure a smooth transition for our patients to another pharmacy. Meanwhile, we’ll continue to work on resolving this issue with CVS Caremark.

“Leaving a benefits plan is an extraordinary step for us, but it demonstrates how extraordinarily low our payments were from CVS Caremark. We can’t continue accepting reimbursement rates that are drastically below market, while offering patients needed special services such as 24-hour pharmacy access and drive-thru pharmacies.”

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