New Toy E-tail Champ Emerges

Educational toy e-tailer SmarterKids has narrowly edged out the powerhouse partnership ofToysrus.com and Amazon.com to secure the title of best online toy and game seller overall, according to Forrester Research rankings released Monday.

Forrester said SmarterKids won its first-place showing by the “tiniest ofmargins” due to the wealth of instructional information itprovides and the fact that the Web site allows consumers to tailor purchases to a child’s skill level.

Researchers conferred a 66.17 rating upon SmarterKids — less than one pointahead of Amazon’s 65.90 — in its latest “PowerRankings” index.

The index gauges e-tailer performance on a 100-point scale across a host of different categories.Researchers said Amazon’s continuing “customer service failures” effectivelyshut it out of the top spot.

Rounding out the top four toy e-tailers were eToys, which scored a 64.96, and KBKids, with a 60.15 rating.

E-tail Lessons

Despite its top placement, the SmarterKids site is not for everyone.

“SmarterKids just eked out a victory, but its limited product selectioncurbs its appeal,” said Forrester senior analyst Tom Rhinelander.

For instance, Forrester said the e-tailer’s educational focus means itdoes not sell popular items. The research firm also faulted the site for thelack of external product reviews and the ability to cancel orders online.

In Forrester’s breakdown by category, SmarterKids ranked first in deliveryand usability, while Amazon led the pack in transaction efficiency. eToys and KBKids.com tied for top honors in customerservice.

Down for Count?

“By joining with Amazon.com, Toysrus.com dramatically improved its scoreover its previous ranking,” said Rhinelander. “If Amazon’s customer servicehad not faltered, the partners could have enjoyed a victory.”

Amazon’s sluggish customer service has also caused the Internet bellwetherto stumble in Forrester’s other categories. Earlier this month, it wasbested in the music category by Tower Records. In addition, last monthAmazon.com was beaten by Buy.com in the electronics rankings, by Borders inthe bookseller department, and by Express.com in the movies category.

Despite its sheer size and well-known brand, Amazon.com does not hold thetop ranking in any of Forrester’s e-tail categories. However, many would argue that the rankings are based on subjective surveys, and that being one point off the lead in such a ranking system is not significant.

To compile its PowerRankings of leading U.S. e-commerce sites, Cambridge,Massachusetts-based Forrester surveys consumers about their transactionexperiences and conducts independent shopping tests. Approximately 20,000online buyers were polled for its toy seller survey.

No Playground

The toy market has proven to be a brutal battleground in the e-tail arena.

On Friday, eToys said it will miss its revenue estimates for the thirdquarter and announced plans to slash its workforce next month in a bid toslow its cash burn rate. The firm blamed slower-than-expected holiday salesfor its revenue shortfall.

eToys said it will have net sales of US$120 million to $130 million for thequarter, well below the $210 million to $240 million the company hadforecast in September, though still ahead of last year’s sales of $106million.

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