Guitar Center restrings its e-commerce site

June 5, 2015 12:58 PM

After spending most of his career selling electronics online, head of e-commerce Michael Amkreutz took over as head of e-commerce at Guitar Center in November. Selling musical instruments requires very different strategy: “It’s such a difficult-to-interpret online category,” he says, “because it’s so involved with people’s emotions and passion.”

Guitar Center, No. 67 in the Internet Retailer 2015 Top 500 Guide, hired Amkreutz from consumer electronics retailer Systemax, No. 32 in the Top 500 Guide. Since taking the new job last fall, he says he’s spent a lot of time in Guitar Center’s stores observing how musicians and non-musicians interact with the retailer’s products so that his team can effectively serve their needs online.

It’s quite different from selling consumer electronics, where consumers look for features and price, to selling musical instruments where shoppers buy based on “experience, emotion and passion,” he says. “The name of the game is building an experience that taps into whatever emotions are evoked with a person when they create music. It’s a whole different ballgame than selling a gaming system to a gamer.”

There are some major changes afoot in how Guitar Center presents itself online.

The retailer is in the process of deploying a new e-commerce platform that Amkreutz says is designed to raise Guitar Center’s position in natural search results. The new platform will also make it easier to add SKUs and to provide a better overall customer experience. The new site will be unveiled later this summer.

“When this launches, I am going to be very excited about the new look and feel, the new navigation. What’s really going to be the material difference is the way SKUs are set up, the number of SKUs we can add on as we expand into new categories, the marketability across the site,” he says.

He and his team also are looking into new technologies to ensure shopping online feels a lot like shopping in a store, which should improve the retailer’s conversion rate. In 2014, the online conversion rate was an Internet Retailer-estimated 1.42% of all visitors to Guitar Center’s e-commerce properties.

“Adding sound is a big piece of improving conversion,” Amkreutz says, as is replicating the feel of the wood used to make the instruments. “There are a number of third-party companies that have been experimenting with 3-D modeling of guitar bodies and leveraging technology from video games where they can emulate surfaces all the way down to the bumps and ripples. I think that’s longer term, but that’s also going to be an opportunity to improve conversion.”

Amkreutz declined to provide exact sales figures but says Guitar Center does roughly 15%-20% of its overall revenue online. data shows that online sales grew to an Internet Retailer-estimated $680 million in 2014, up 4.6% from $650 million the previous year. He expects revenue to jump about 15% year over year in 2015.

Amkreutz says one of the keys to continuing that growth will be increasing Guitar Center’s mobile conversion rate. Right now, about 25% of all visits to come from mobile devices, and Amkreutz thinks that number will be at or around 50% within the next 2-3 years.

While people visit the site on their mobile devices, they aren’t buying on them. Guitar Center’s mobile conversion rate is around 0.5%, a number Amkreutz calls unacceptable. “We have a lot of work to do there,” he says. “Mobile is one of the key opportunities for a retailer like Guitar Center to make some key investments in.”

Some of those key investments are going to be in personnel.

Amkreutz says when building his team, he’s seeking candidates with a background in app development and mobile technology, though he didn’t say how many employees he’ll be adding.

“Because the conversion is lower on mobile, I’d say there’s definitely an opportunity to double down on the level of investment in the mobile experience,” he says. “It doesn’t require a whole lot of convincing. Musicians love smartphones too.”




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