December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

Dressed to Sell

(Page 3 of 3)

Brian Sugar, former director of new media at J. Crew, foresees similar tradeoffs as the apparel retailer carries out its own narrow-casting decisions on the heels of a redesign that went live last August. “If we know your size, we’ll make sure it’s pre-selected. If we know you like blue, that’s the color you’ll see on the model,” says Sugar. “Little touches like that can make a big difference to the customer.”

Customers of Jcrew.com already have experienced a rebuilt site similar in scope to the Spiegel relaunch. The two-tiered project involved both new front-end and back-end systems. The relaunch, J. Crew’s first major upgrade of its Web store, technically began last January but took shape between May and the August debut. “The driving principle,” says Sugar, “is that we wanted the site to be its own, not a catalog derivative.”

Yet J. Crew wanted to tap merchandising expertise from people who know its goods better than anyone: its own staff. A merchant from the retail side and another from the catalog operation ordered all new photos to give Internet shoppers larger and more detailed views of fit, color and texture. The redesigned site makes these images available through view-all options. Click on sweaters, choose “view all,” and sweaters of every style appear in thumbnail images. Choose a style, and each sweater pops up in every color.

The redesign team gambled with horizontal scrolling, a decision aimed at replicating a stroll past store display windows. “We viewed it as an experiment, and we learned two things,” says Sugar. “The first is that we can’t wait for broadband. The second is that not everyone knows you can scroll from left to right.” Slow connection speeds and confusion over how to scroll through the site put an end to the experiment within two months. Sugar will only concede that the feature was ahead of its time. “The site is one major learning infrastructure,” he says. “It gives us the ability to learn about our customers and present merchandise in new ways. We’re a direct marketing company. The ability to segment our customer file and give them personalized offerings is a dream come true.”

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