September 30, 2004, 12:00 AM

Sears builds on Lands’ End to move into apparel and home fashions

When Sears bought Lands’ End Inc. two years ago, many analysts and consultants wondered how long it would take Sears to leverage Lands’ End’s expertise on the web. They got their answer last month when Sears launched apparel and home fashions at Sears.com.

When Sears, Roebuck and Co. bought Lands` End Inc. two years ago, many analysts and consultants wondered how long it would take Sears to leverage Lands` End`s expertise on the web. They got their answer last month when Sears launched apparel and home fashions at Sears.com. "This is the culmination of Sears picking up Lands` End two years ago," says Bill Bass, vice president and general manager of Sears Customer Direct, who came to Sears with the Lands` End acquisition.

But if it was the culmination, Lands` End was also only the starting point, he says. "We used Lands` End as a springboard," Bass says. "Lands-End.com is state of the art, but we looked at it and asked, ‘What can we do to take this to the next level?`"

Sears decided there was lots it could do. The apparel and home fashions category will include three new functionalities: a virtual model; zoom and color swap for apparel; and a virtual room for home fashions.

For starters, Sears picked up the My Virtual Model technology which Lands` End pioneered and which has proven popular with shoppers. But it added a twist in which shoppers can try on fashions from different brands at the same time. The My Virtual Model feature at other sites allows shoppers to try only one brand at a time. Sears.com liked My Virtual Model because it generates higher sales at LandsEnd.com. The average ticket for users of My Virtual Model is 8% higher and the conversion rate is 34% higher than for customers who don`t use My Virtual Model.

Sears is hoping to replicate My Virtual Model`s success with home fashions. Working with Montreal-based My Virtual Model, Sears developed the Sears Virtual Decorator that allows shoppers to change bed furnishings, hang pictures on walls, place lamps on bedside tables and even, in a bit of whimsy, place a dog or the cat on the bed.

Sears.com is using Scene7 technology for color swap and zoom.

Adding apparel made a lot of sense, Bass says. Not only do apparel and home fashions account for a third of Sears store sales, with Lands` End clothing in Sears stores and the launch of new house brands, but customers expect apparel and home fashions at Sears.com, Bass says. "Sears.com had 80 million unique visitors last year and the second most searched for category at the site was apparel and home fashions," Bass says.

The apparel section of Sears.com will feature multiple brands, including Lands` End and Sears house brands Covington, Structure, which Sears acquired from Limited last year, and A Line, an apparel line manufactured for Sears by Jones of New York. Before apparel became available at Sears.com last month, clothes-shopping customers could click on a tab that took them to LandsEnd.com or to other specialty catalogs with which Sears had agreements.

Lands` End will fulfill all orders for Lands` End clothing. Sears is outsourcing other apparel fulfillment to Dart Warehouse Corp. of Naperville, Ill.

Sears will market the new features online, including search engine marketing, with signs in stores, taglines in all printed media, mentions in TV ads and in credit card statements.

Sears.com`s addition of apparel follows a similar move by WalMart.com in August.

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