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Retaining a store’s image is tricky when moving online. While some merchants rushed to be first to sell goods via the web, others, such as hip fashion and home store Urban Outfitters, decided to wait. But while some waited because they wanted to make sure their online strategy was sound, that’s not what held back Urban Outfitters. It was waiting for another kind of sound: the sound of music.
Last month, the company launched Urbn.com. The site features a mix of hip music-a big part of the quirky store’s real-world experience. The store’s target shoppers-high school and college students, with a very strong core of 20- to 25-year-olds-click on the Urban Radio button to get a pop-up menu with a choice of tunes that play while they shop. Shoppers have the option of turning the radio off.
So far no other store sites have music as part of their sales repertoire. But Urbn.com has its image to uphold.
That image comes from Free People, the company that started the trendy and exclusive Urban Outfitters store in the 1970s based on the premise that shopping should be an experience rather than just a trip to buy clothes. Since then, Urban Outfitters has evolved into 40 stores nationwide with a single shop in London. The new site will feature streaming music updated every three weeks. It will deliver the music using Flash technology that is now part of many web browsers. Chris DeWitt, managing director of Urbn.com, notes that because Urban Outfitter music typically features hard-to-find mixes, the tunes will be a vibrant part of the online experience.
But while music has been available through other web sites, Urbn.com wanted to wait until its audience’s computers had the capability to download music easily. Had Urban Outfitters gone in straight away with that plan, many shoppers would have missed the music because they have slower modems and less capable machines or they would have been substantially slowed down while downloading the site. “About 20% of our target market has DSL or T1 modem lines that users need to have to make the streaming music feature work,” says DeWitt.
Some questions remain about just how it will look, or rather sound, to have tunes piped in an online store. Will parents scream for kids to “turn that web site down?” Some market observers have no objection. “I’m optimistic about it as long as it does not interrupt the shopping experience,” says Will Ander, a partner with retail consulting firm McMillan/Doolittle, Chicago. “Certainly they’re the right audience to work with the music option.” He sums up the Urbn.com concept in more ways that one: “Sounds interesting.”