December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

For women not built like Barbie, Lucy.com throws the cookie cutter out the window

An epiphany-when you realize that things don’t have to be the way you always thought they’d be-is the best way to describe Lucy.com, an innovative site that caters to active women who are just plain tired of trying to fit into the model stereotypes that haunt all segments of retailing. From swimsuits, to jog bras, to yoga pants, finding the right stuff to stuff yourself into for a workout can be a nightmare. And, the challenge of finding clothes you can’t try on that will fit right for training is as exhausting and scary as competing in the Iron Man.

Never fear, Lucy is here

Lucy.com’s new Body Type Solutions, introduced as the main feature of the revamped web site in August, lists clothing recommendations for eight different, but very common and very reasonable, body types. Instead of reading romantic descriptions of material accompanied by a flat photo of an item, you can see the type of person the item is designed to look and feel best on. What a relief!

My first time on the Lucy.com site was an epiphany. I saw on the main page a group listing of body types. I wondered if I’d find the “rugby-playing, triathlete-training, YMCA-rat body type section.” (I did but it was called something else-the “I’m boyish” section) And in the boyish section were some pretty cool and very functional clothes. Prior to my Lucy.com experience, I ordered men’s sizes hoping the length would not be too much of a concession for the narrow-hip fit. Finding a suite full of clothes to accent narrow hips and big legs was righteous, as Lucy.com would say. I was sold and so were three pairs of pants, a tank top and a sports bra.

Putting those suites of training gear together is just a day’s work for Lucy.com’s fit specialist, Kamiko Matsudo. Matsudo, the model for the “I’m Boyish” section, says understanding how the customers want clothes to fit is an important part of Lucy.com’s strategy. The idea to include Body Type Solutions for its new web design was suggested by many customers who called customer service asking how certain items would fit their short legs, big hips or other body part.

Matsudo, with her background in fashion design, does the listening when putting clothes together for the Body Solutions boutiques. “Determining how to flatter someone’s shape is the key,” she says, adding that she often pulls aside Lucy.com employees to test different clothes on different body types. On the site, the body type categories even have subcategories to fine-tune the fit, such as “all bottom,” “all top” and “all tummy” in the Plus Size boutique. “We didn’t want women to feel like a cookie cutter,” says Matsudo.

And retail analysts agree the approach is good. “They make it easy for the consumer by covering the areas that women are generally worried about, like hips and bust and height,” says Keven Wilder, of Wilder & Associates, a retail and e-commerce consulting firm in Chicago. “Yet, they do it in a way that is not disparaging. They don’t use the words pear-shaped or I’m fat, they say I’m hippy or I’m a plus size.”

Ultimately, the Body Type Solutions feature calms the shopper’s fear (mine!) of ordering something that might not fit. When you can’t see, feel or try on clothes this option is invaluable. Having clothes that fit best for different body types is like having the little voice that you’d have in the fitting room that tells you if an item fits the way you want it to, says Matsudo.

Thinking “inside the fitting room” is another positive for Lucy.com, says Wilder. “This is great to have someone actually behind the scenes putting clothes together that fit together,” she says, noting that some retailers match items automatically, which may not actually look good together on the web page. “So often, cross selling does not relate at all,” says Wilder.

The Lucy.com site overhaul included more than just putting shoppers at ease about their body type. The company also made the site easier to use by reducing the number of content pages from nine to seven. This makes it faster and easier to get around the site. All in all, I spent seven minutes online and that included making several purchases, as well as clicking all over the site to check out the other cool body type listings and browse the by-the-sport sections. And unlike other body-type shopping aids that use technology, the Lucy.com boutique is easy to download, taking only a few seconds to ramp up the clothing selections. Lucy.com does the work in advance by picking models to showcase clothes for certain body type instead of using a computer-generated model based on selected specifications, such as on the Lands’ End site.

In addition to the Body Type Solutions, Lucy.com added a shop by brand feature, which includes more than 90 brands, 55 more than when the site launched in November 1999. Lucy.com’s merchandising team hand picks 20 hot brands for its Best of Brands section. Another new feature is the shop by sport section, which fits appropriate gear for ten sports categories, including golf, the gym, yoga and team sports.

As if the site didn’t already have everything in women’s active wear, the customer service people, dubbed Sisters of Style in the Supreme Service Center, are responsive: they got back to me within one day of emailing. And if you need to return anything, they send you a prepaid U.S. Postal Service shipping label. But I have to say that everything I bought from Lucy.com fits so well, I wouldn’t even think of sending it back. Now that’s righteous.

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