Dare To Compare

An interview with Joe Alter, CEO of Smooth Fitness
Reprint from Entrepreneur Magazine - January 2005

Will listing your products on comparison-shopping sites boost business?
By Melissa Campanelli

Comparison-shopping websites are a great marketing vehicle for online merchants who want to grow their businesses. These sites let e-tailers display product information in a simple format, allowing web buyers to make comparisons and choose the best product from a list of products from different retailers.

Only about 18 percent of America's online consumers use comparison-shopping sites, but those who do spend 24 percent more than the average online consumer, according to a December 2003 report from tech research firm Forrester Research. In addition, 62 percent bought a product after using a comparison-shopping site. "With comparison sites, you get a relatively directed shopper or somebody who is in the mode to buy, so it's an effective ad buy," says Patti Freeman Evans, a retail industry analyst at Jupitermedia in New York City.

The CEO of Smooth Fitness in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, Joe Alter swears by comparison-shopping sites. His company sells its Smooth brand of exercise equipment at www.smoothfitness.com.

The company, which was co-founded by Joe and his dad, William, 72, has been selling online since 1996. The company, which also includes three retail stores and another website…, had $18 million in sales in 2003 and, at press time, projected $25 million for 2004. More than 90 percent of the company's sales come from the web.

Smooth Fitness has been advertising on comparison sites since 2000 and is listed on most of the major ones. "The key thing for us is that [comparison sites] add credibility," says Joe, 42. "People [who] might not normally consider buying a $1,500 or $2,000 treadmill sight unseen might change their minds if they see it on a comparison site they trust and see some decent ratings. Sometimes, it's a deal-maker that wouldn't otherwise happen." The company pays $12,000 to $15,000 in referral fees per month, and 6 percent of its business comes from comparison sites.

Every comparison site determines placement a little differently, so e-tailers should closely track and monitor each site to make sure they're getting the best bang for their buck. Smooth Fitness has one in-house employee working on comparison sites every day. Alter, with a background in marketing, spends a good deal of his time in that area as well.

Experts, entrepreneurs and service providers alike insist businesses can benefit from using comparison-shopping sites. "These sites are an especially good marketing vehicle for small e-tailers," says Evans. "Since it is generally a pay-for-performance type of environment, it's not a heavy investment to be in the same place where some of the bigger players are."

Says Behr, "You can have the three biggest retailers in America and four or five small retailers all on the same page. These sites level the playing field."

 

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