January 17, 2002, 12:00 AM

Once it hits a critical size, the web can impact the rest of the business

The web has come of age as an integral part of a retail operation at some retailers, NRF attendees heard this week, and so management needs to pay more attention to everything the web does.

Kurt Peters

Executive Editor

The web has come of age as an integral part of a retail operation at some retailers, attendees at the National Retail Federation Convention and Expo learned this week. That is especially the case at The Spiegel Group’s Eddie Bauer division, where the stores are having an abysmal year yet the web site is flourishing. “One of the key learnings this past year at EddieBauer.com was that online is now big enough to impact the results of the whole company in sales, profits and customer experience,” Sally McKenzie, vice president of interactive media for EddieBauer.com, said.

As a result, priorities for the coming year, McKenzie said, are to communicate the brand across all channels and strengthen customers’ ties to that brand, move more customers to more channels, look at expense structure across the channels and achieve profitability across all channels. “Profitability is not optional at all,” she said.

Even though Eddie Bauer was one of the pioneers of Internet retailing, McKenzie said EddieBauer.com constantly tests marketing approaches. For instance, she said, Eddie Bauer has learned that Internet customers respond to e-mail marketing pitches, but they buy even more when Eddie Bauer sends them a catalog, typically one edited down from the full-blown Eddie Bauer catalog. Furthermore, she said, Eddie Bauer does much lab testing to web scenarios. “The way people say they will behave and the way they do behave are two different things,” she said. “We need to understand better what they’re actually going to do.”

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