BOLT.COM SOLICITS TEENS’ PRODUCT RATINGS

Byline: Jeanette Hye

NEW YORK — Bolt.com, a teen-oriented web site that launched its online store last week, thinks it has a way to deliver on the Internet’s promise of truly responsive customer service.
The two-year-old web site opened an e-commerce store last week that features 1,000 stockkeeping units in apparel, shoes, accessories, electronics and other products aimed at teens. Unlike other e-commerce sites, Bolt.com offers only products its audience wants, the e-tailer said.
Its initial product mix, which is expected to grow rapidly, is based on the requests of the 3 million teens that visit the site each month. It has 1.4 million registered users. The Bolt.com store merchandise mix was put together based on information acquired from teens in the last two years about what products they want.
Bolt.com, based here, said its inventory mix would be constantly adjusted based on what its customers, whom it calls “Boltsters,” say they want.
This is done through a rating system by which site users post a review of products. Customers can give a product one to five stars, and there is a section for written comments. Each rating also indicates if the person responding owns the product. Reviews and ratings are posted on the site, directly under the product displayed.
Bolt.com monitors the ratings and will remove products that are widely panned by site visitors.
But reviews alone don’t determine the products’ fate, said Alexa Tobin, vice president of commerce at Bolt.com. They are considered along with sales data. This, according to Tobin, is a safeguard against a lopsided mix. While a very vocal minority of site users could, for example, give a product negative reviews, the item could be a hot seller among the majority of the site’s users.
While there is no set formula on how many negative reviews and how poor the sales would have to be for a product to be removed, Tobin said the reviews would be monitored continuously.
“We view this as the future of e-commerce,” said Tobin. “It is the ultimate manifestation of the one-to-one marketing model. Other sites are still fundamentally telling customers what they want. We are completely empowering the consumer to tell us.”
Tobin said Bolt.com was able to offer this kind of quick-response merchandising because the company does not carry any of its own inventory. Instead, it has partnerships with vendors that ship the products directly.
“The core of our ability to act quickly is the third-party vendor model,” said Tobin. “We are only interested in working with vendors who will be our partners, not in a company that wants to act just as a fulfillment house. We are experts on teens and we want our partners to be experts on the product.”
Bolt.com vendors ship products ordered on the Bolt site directly from their warehouses. The orders are shipped in Bolt packaging, with Bolt promotional materials and with a Bolt invoice.
While Bolt.com is careful to protect the identity of those who buy products on its site, it does share sales data with its supplier partners. In addition, of course, vendors can see for themselves on the site what buyers are saying about their products.
Bolt.com features apparel and footwear brands Illig, Cosmic Girls, Roxy and Vans, among others.
Bolt.com is a privately owned company; among its partners are Blades, a 21-unit skate and apparel retailer, and Newbury Comics, a 20-store New England chain.

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