December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

The king of content

Observers call REI.com a “solution killer” because it aggressively bundles product, information and community to woo outdoor enthusiasts. “They do one of the best jobs of providing content,” says IXL’s Duif Calvin. “Some of the content helps you buy and some just makes you feel good about REI.”

Feeling paddle happy? Click on the “Learn and Share” section where there’s a wealth of advice: how to choose a canoe or kayak, tips on care, online clinics, links to paddling clubs and more. It’s not just breadth but depth of content that boosts REI’s online integrity, adds Calvin: “Backpacking 101 gets more authenticity because there’s a Backpacking 102.”

Matt Hyde, REI’s vice president of online sales, considers education to be a company cornerstone, a fact that’s highly visible in its retail stores. “We knew we needed to translate REI’s commitment to education onto our Web site,” he says.

Compatible with its market niche, REI’s Web site has a rugged appearance via earth tones and outdoor photographs.

Analysts also like REI’s outlet center, a separate site with merchandise not featured on its main site. That strategy protects the brand yet still offers value to customers. Offerings on the outlet site change daily, but busy bargain hunters can ask a sales “sleuth” to send them an e-mail when an item of interest gets slashed.

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