From Enhanced Searching to a Bargain Center, MSN Gives Customers What They Want — Line-Free Online Shopping

REDMOND, Wash., Nov. 1, 2000 — In many ways, what people want from an online shopping experience isn’t much different from the expectations they take with them to their local mall: the knowledge that they’re getting value in exchange for their money, for example, or the comfort of knowing something can be returned if it doesn’t work out.

“People come to the Internet expecting to find good deals,”
says Sasha Peters, product planner for MSN eShop.
“They also want something that’s simple, easy, convenient and fast. They want to be able to compare products and find the best prices.”

All of which will be possible this holiday season thanks to several new features developed for shopping online at MSN eShop. Based on surveys, focus groups and one-on-one discussions with users, MSN developed the new features to make online shopping on MSN eShop a quicker, easier, more secure and, ultimately, more rewarding experience.

“This is the best-of-breed tool to find the products you want at great prices from great stores,”
says Rob Bernard, product unit manager for MSN eShop.
“Unless you’re super, super brand loyal and you always have to buy something from a particular store, you’re not going to find a more complete selection of products on the Web.”

Simplifying the search — while at the same time making it more complete in scope — is one of MSN eShop’s key new features.

The traditional way of searching is for people to type in digital camera , see what comes up, and then type in a brand name,”
Peters says.
“It’s all very disaggregated. It takes a lot of time and work and organization to pull it together and understand it. We’ve built something that pulls everything together for people.”

On MSN eShop, users can choose the search mechanism that works best for them. For example, by checking off items in survey form,
“Power Search”
sifts through a database of thousands of items and narrows the list to those that meet the specifications entered.
“Quick Search”
also narrows the list, but in a more general way, using a few general attributes, such as price range or the size of television screen a consumer wants.

“One of the biggest advantages MSN eShop offers is that users can compare merchandise,”
Bernard says.
“You can make a buying decision based on searches that you determine by what’s important to you.”

Being able to return merchandise also ranked high among users’ concerns about online shopping. As a result of customer input, MSN eShop’s Return Center offers an easy-to-use, minimum-hassle solution, Peters says.

“By observing and listening to customers, we discovered that returning merchandise is an issue that people are really concerned about — one of the things that keeps them from shopping online,”
she says.
“Our solution for that was to work with the merchants and pull the information on policies and procedures together so that shoppers can find all the information they need in one place.”

Most of the return policies, says Peters, are similar — if not identical — to those at
“brick and mortar”
“It’s important to check out return policies before you buy, whether you’re online or not,”
she says.
“We all understand that in the offline world, but in the online world people expect things to be simpler and faster — and on eShop it is. The Return Center lets shoppers prescreen wherever they’re going to shop, which is a lot easier than driving to different stores all over town.”

MSN eShop’s Bargain Center provides a centralized area for discounted products from all of the merchants on eShop. Bargain Center carries merchandise from across eShop that’s been discounted by 20 percent or more — the amount that the consumers surveyed by MSN defined as a substantial sale.

“We conducted several focus groups to determine what constitutes a sale,”
Peters says.
“If users are interested in finding ‘sale only’ items, they can do a search accordingly. It’s like being able to walk right to the rack with all the sale pants on it instead of digging through every rack in every store in the mall.”

To offer users advice from other customers, provides reviews of goods and services found on MSN eShop — written by real users.
“As consumers, we always ask our friends’ advice about what to buy,”
Peters says.
“It’s no different for online shopping.”

The objective nature of the reviews, Peters says, is the strongest selling point of
“Anyone is welcome to come in and write an opinion,”
she says.
“But we do require writers to sign in and register. People feel that the reviews are very unbiased because they’re written by actual consumers.”

The consumers MSN polled regarding online shopping rated simplified searching, the ability to return merchandise with minimal hassle, easy-to-find discounted merchandise and online
on what to buy as important. According to the company’s consumer-based research, however, security was the most important factor for consumers in deciding whether to shop online.

“Security is a huge concern,”
Bernard says.
“Our surveys and focus groups indicated that security was the number one thing that concerns people about purchasing online. People are afraid — it’s something that appears to be out of your control after you hit the”
“key. It’s a new experience.”

To soothe the nerves of novice online shoppers, Peters says that a number of features on MSN eShop were included specifically to increase awareness and educate consumers about security and privacy. MSN eShop posted its MSN Shopping Pledge so that consumers can learn more about privacy and security on the Internet. Noted in the Shopping Pledge, MSN merchants are required to have their own individual privacy policies posted on their sites to provide consumers secure transaction capabilities.

MSN is a licensee of the TRUSTe Privacy Program, an independent, nonprofit organization with a mission to build trust and confidence on the Internet by promoting the use of fair information practices.

By displaying the TRUSTe trustmark, MSN eShop has agreed to tell customers what personally identifiable information is collected from them through the MSN site, which organization is collecting the information, and how it is used. Consumers are also told with whom the information might be shared; what choices are available regarding collection, use and distribution of that information; the kind of security procedures in place to protect the loss, misuse or alteration of information under Microsoft’s control; and how they can correct inaccuracies.

In addition to features being introduced for the 2000 holiday shopping season, MSN eShop still features some of the standards that, according to Bernard and Peters, help make it the easiest place to shop online. Features such as MSN Yellow Pages help consumers easily locate retailers that sell the item they’re looking for; seasonal gift guides, best-seller lists, MSN auctions, gift finders and gift certificates are just a few examples. There’s also a feature called
“My Saved Items,”
which lets consumers create a list of items they’d like to receive, store it as a Web page and send it in email to friends and family.

All of these features combined, Peters says, make MSN eShop an easy, convenient shopping experience.
“Overall, our goal is to make it easier to spend time online by delivering an integrated experience,”
she explains.
“We want to make it easy, safe and simple. Whether you’re using MSN Search, or you’re on the home page, or you’re on the women’s page, we want to make it easy to find what you’re looking for.”

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