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When Benton Harbor, MI-based Whirlpool launched its home appliance Web site (www.whirlpool.com) back in April 1996, it was a bit more than online 'brochureware'. Consumers were provided with rebate information, TimeSmart Tips and detailed product specs to help them purchase big-ticket appliances such as refrigerators, washers, dryers, and dishwashers.
The site has now evolved into much more than that. Brett Knobloch, Whirlpool's manager of interactive consumer marketing, says the Web site has now become an effective interactive marketing tool.
The home page index reflects this. Viewers can click on 15 different product-oriented categories and obtain detailed information on everything from ranges to cooktops to microwave ovens to dehumidifiers. Click on the refrigerator category, for example, and an interactive shopping assistant allows you to shop three ways: by feature, by needs, or by viewing the entire model listing. You can compare and select two models and click on an icon to view a side-by-side comparison.
"We're transforming the shopping process for appliances," Knobloch says. "We have made it convenient and easy for people to do their research at home so they don't have to go from store to store. In our industry, after all, when a consumer looks at a refrigerator, it's just square, white and cold. Most consumers can't tell the differences. Our site helps them make qualified and informed choices."
Viewers obviously concur. Daily visits now tally about 8,000, with Mondays the busiest day of the week, consistently between 2:00 and 3:00 PM EST. Total page views were 1.1 million for the period Feb. 1-25, 1999.
"Our visitors are between 25 and 55, with about a 55-45 percent female-to- male ratio," Knobloch says. "Our demographic studies have also shown that about 70 percent of the visits are 'pre-buys' consumers looking to buy something in the near future, and of those, about 20 percent of them go straight to our refrigerator section."
Knobloch adds that site traffic is augmented a number of ways. The home page features 13 categories providing useful information. These include 'Need Help Remodeling', 'TimeSaving Shopper','TimeSmart Tips', and an 'Appliance Doctor'.
The Appliance Doctor, for example, is an interactive application that helps consumers diagnose problems with their appliances by asking them a series of questions. They select the best answer from a provided list, select the desired 'Action', then click on the 'Submit Request' button. Enter the TimeSmart Tips area and you're asked to take a brief test to see how much you know about saving money, time and energy by doing so, you're automatically entered into a monthly drawing to win a free microwave oven.
Although Whirlpool doesn't use any major sponsorships, Knobloch says the site drives a lot of traffic off the search engines. Whirlpool also offers a number of ongoing contests and incentives. A 'Whips It Up' promotion, for instance, provides rebates on washers, dryers, ranges and dishwashers. Sign up for the TimeSaver Shopper Program and you're entered into a weekly drawing for $200 worth of coupons on brand names at your grocery store. Participants are also notified via e-mail of the next nationwide promotion and are kept up to date on Whirlpool product information.
Future plans call for a virtual kitchen application that will let consumers look at and navigate 360 degrees around a virtual kitchen. Viewers will be able to select from three types of kitchens: L, U and open-island shaped; and choose counter top, flooring, and cabinet colors.
"It'll be an ideal visualization tool as viewers will be able to situate various Whirlpool appliances in the virtual kitchen, open them up, determine the best placements for specific models," Knobloch says. "The virtual kitchen is just one more example of how we're providing consumers with interactive opportunities to make informed buying decisions."
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