December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

Eddie Bauer Blazes a Web Trail

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Inside the box

For example, while reading an online newspaper, a consumer could see a banner for a clothing sale. The consumer clicks on the banner and is taken from the newspaper site to the store site. The shopper must then go through a sales process, which typically has a few different screens to download. If the consumer wants to go back to the newspaper site, he or she has to click back a few times to get there. Some analysts contend that such a process is a shopping deterrent.

But Waltham, Mass.-based @Home Network, formerly Narrative Communications, offers software that allows consumers to remain on the original Web site while detouring briefly to buy something through a banner ad.

Neuman says Eddie Bauer, which used the interactive banner to sell jeans last year, is not using the Enliven software right now but will not rule it out for future online strategies. “This feature is great to encourage impulse buying,” says Neuman, “But today not everyone has the right kind of Internet browser that would allow them to take advantage of the banner.”

Generating Web sales clearly is a combination of thoughtful target marketing, open-minded planning and the basics of how good your site looks to a potential customers. “A lot of conversion depends on how you set up your store,” Wilson says, noting that customers should be able to find what they are looking for, via category segments, and the site should have a fast and easy process to make a purchase. The fewer clicks a customer must make online, the more chances they will make a purchase.

Neuman concurs: “We’re always retrofitting the Web site. We’re cleaning up the order process to make it easier and faster to use.” The site is tailored to what customers want to see or already see in Eddie Bauer’s catalog: a white background and uncluttered presentations of shopping sections. Some Internet customers like to see a lot of information packed onto Web pages, such as some music sites. “Our customers do not respond to that,” Neuman says.

A 3D experience

In terms of building a site on which people will want to shop, Neuman has some hard and fast rules. “You need to offer a full assortment of online goods. Many retailers still do a subset of what they offer in their stores or catalogs,” she says, noting that many online customers are dissatisfied with limited selections. And not only knowing your customer, but also listening to your customer, can improve online presentations. Eddie Bauer, for example, added home accessories to its online page as a result of customer feedback, specifically, from e-mail sent through the Web site.

Anything that can help a browser become a buyer is fair game for Eddie Bauer. Other software that Eddie Bauer utilizes to enhance the shopping experience for online customers includes Bothell, Wash.-based iDream Software’s iDream Realism product, which allows shoppers to see houseware items in a three-dimensional virtual room.

In addition, Eddie Bauer’s site offers a virtual dressing room. Eddie Bauer in 1999 is planning to add a feature by which customers will be contacted directly via e-mail with certain Web site sales information. Now, consumers can sign up for the service on the Web site. Such e-mails would include graphics, which show particular items, and hotlinks, which can connect the customer directly to the Web page for a particular item. While Eddie Bauer counts most of its pennies for online advertising, it does not rule out the strength of its brand in the real world. The retailer plugs the virtual store site at its real-world store, by printing the URL on cash receipts and shopping bags. And its catalogs have the online address on the back page of each issue. Most recently, Eddie Bauer launched in February a major national branding campaign which will include some promotion of the online site by the fall.

Eddie Bauer plans to continue its aggressive online climb. “So far, we beat the heck out of our projections,” says Neuman, who notes that sales growth exceeds 200% over last year. Sales more than tripled in fourth quarter 1998 over fourth quarter 1997.

With innovative plans for an online sweepstakes and, possibly, some games customers can play on the Web site, clearly, the retailer is not sitting on its laurels. Neuman did not provide details about the upcoming projects, except to say that the timing would be around Father’s Day with a promotion that ties into its catalog and store channels. She notes that Eddie Bauer will continue to utilize targeted online advertising with a combination of banners and fixed placements in high traffic sites. “We also will continue to focus on portals that deliver results and on performance-based models,” Neuman says.

E-tailing group’s Freedman notes that Eddie Bauer’s direct-marketing approach is a model that works for online sales. “Over the long run, it’s like the tortoise and the hare: the retailer who jumps onto the Internet and runs may not be the winner. It’s more likely to be the tortoise who sits back and figures out what it needs to do and expands on that wisely.” •

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