Great Service: The Sweet Smell of Success

By James Maguire | Posted April 07, 2005

When you're selling the same products sold by lots of other sites — and countless retail outlets — how do you earn customer loyalty? That's the challenge facing Scentiments, a South Florida-based site that sells designer perfumes like Elizabeth Arden, Givenchy and Perry Ellis.

"Our product is available everywhere," said Scentiments CEO Howard Wyner. "Our customers are pretty knowledgeable — they've done their homework and they know what they want."

Yet even with its commonly available inventory, Scentiments has succeeded in capturing noses (and the customers who come with them). Launched with basic e-commerce capability in 1998, the site now sees annual revenues near $9 million.

"People will go to Bloomingdale's to buy a shirt, and they'll get hit with this perfume and think, 'let me go home and see where I can get it online,'" Wyner explained.

Price, of course, is the prime attraction, and to reach this market, Scentiments deeply discounts its inventory.

But the site does more to earn customers than slash retail mark-ups. In addition to cheap prices, the site "backs it up with customer satisfaction," Wyner said, noting that, "repeat business, in this industry, is the most important facet."

Customer Satisfaction Techniques
Scentiments' return policy is more generous than the industry standard, Wyner said. "If you bought something two months ago and you never used it, we'll accept it and give you your money back, as long as it's in the same saleable condition."

He stresses the site's ease of navigation, and indeed, the site's 4,500 products are laid out with utter simplicity, alphabetically. And if an item is out of stock, a customer can enter his or her e-mail address, and the site assures them that it will be available within five days. "We always keep our customers informed about their order status."

The site displays Scentiments' BizRate award, "so customers can click to see how 50,000 plus customers have rated us over the years," said Wyner.

Scentiments keeps shipping rates reasonable: it charges $4.99 for one or two items, and $5.99 for three or more. "We lose on our shipping, there's no way around it, but we've found that this was the price point for us to offer the value," he says.

Wyner has placed Scentiments in many online shopping outlets, from Yahoo to MSN. Due to the site's low prices, he sees this visibility as a necessary part of his strategy.

There's a level of customer skepticism, he said. "We're selling stuff at prices customers can't believe — it retails for $100, we're selling it for $45. If they see me in every place they look, they'll get a level of comfort."

Talking to Shoppers
The site's customer focus also helps increase customer comfort. The company provides a toll-free number for phone orders seven days a week (10 to 15 percent of orders are over the phone) and it responds rapidly to e-mail — within the hour during the business day, Wyner said. Orders ship the same day.


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The Scentiments home page features simple navigation, a toll-free customer service number and its BizRate award.

Scentiments keeps a fragrance guru on hand (it's actually a number of employees). In addition to answering questions about scents — the best fragrances for spring and summer, for example — the guru answers any shopper query. "He knows all, sees all, and he helps all," Wyner said. (In fact Wyner takes on the fragrance guru job at times.)

If customers have a problem, "we want them to call us, we want them to speak to a real person."

Wyner sees the site's approach as "a New-Age Internet company with the old-school philosophy of talking with our customers."

Adapted from ECommerce-Guide.com, part of Internet.com's Small Business Channel.

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