December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

The bottom line on Eddie Bauer

URLs are ubiquitous. They’re on buses, billboards, even TV ads. So it’s no surprise to see multi-channel retailers leverage marketing dollars by putting their Web addresses on shopping bags. Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, Bloomingdale’s and The Gap all sport Web addresses on the sides of their shopping bags. Curiously, though, Eddie Bauer’s URL shows up on the bottom.

Marketing genius, or just plain folly? Analysts see both an upside and a downside.

“I think it’s smart. I fold a lot of bags,” says Lauren Freedman, president of the e-tailing group, a Chicago-based Internet retail consulting firm. Freedman points out that shoppers are more apt to notice a URL once they’re home from the store and unpacking purchases. For folks who recycle bags, the bottom line is that every time they reach into storage bins, that Web address flashes a subliminal reminder: the nearest Eddie Bauer store is just a PC away.

The drawback, of course, is that a bottom-of-the-bag Web address offers limited exposure. “It’s good to have that last bit of reinforcement when you get home,” concedes Richard Berkman, senior consultant at net.Genesis Corp. in Cambridge, Mass. “Yet from the standpoint of being able to market to other consumers, branding potential is definitely diminished.”

Displaying URLs on the side makes them accessible to more people. “It’s a free form of advertising as you walk around,” suggests Pam Stubing, a retail analyst at New York-based Ernst & Young.

Ironically, printing issues rather than marketing theory dictated the placement of Eddie Bauer’s URL. When the Redmond, Wash.-based retailer first added its Web address to bags in late 1997, bags already featured an intricate design that wrapped around the sides. That left the bag’s bottom as “available real estate,” in the words of Steve Kahn, marketing manager of interactive media at Eddie Bauer.

While there’s no marketing research available as to the merits of either approach, Eddie Bauer is currently giving its shopping bags a makeover, and will add its URL elsewhere, says Kahn. But the Web address may also remain on the bottom, anyway. If the suspense is more than you can stand, be patient: Eddie Bauer’s new bags hit stores in October.

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