December 23, 2004, 12:00 AM

The web delivers new customers to Talbots

Talbots’ 1,000-plus stores drive the biggest share of sales, while its catalog remains the top ad vehicle for all three channels. Its fast-growing web site is bringing in new customers, with about 20% of the shoppers at Talbots.com new to the brand.

 

A dual-channel merchant--retail and catalog-–since the late 1940s, women’s classic apparel merchant Talbots took its time over launching an e-commerce site, not going live with Talbots.com until November 1999. But today, the Internet is a key part of Talbots’ operation, bringing in new customers and revenue.

About 20% of customers on Talbots.com are new to the brand, and average order size online is growing as well, now approaching about $200, according to a Talbots spokeswoman. Annual web sales are about $72 million and represent 30% of direct sales, which includes web and catalog. That’s up from 24% last year.

Though later than some in going online, Talbots was ahead of the curve in treating its web site from the beginning as just another leg in an integrated multi-channel strategy, rather than viewing it as competition or a separate organization. That was an extension of the strategy under which it has integrated store and catalog operations for years, says the spokeswoman, adding, “We were one of very few retailers at the time to operate the web site as a third sales channel and integrate it synergistically with the rest of the business.”

For example, while some retailers have only recently added the ability to return in-store merchandise ordered online, Talbots.com has offered that option since its beginning. As an extension of its offline customer service philosophy, it’s maintained live chat on its site since the time of its launch in 1999. Merchandising, pricing and seasonal sales offers are consistent across all channels, as they were when Talbots operated only two channels.

One of only a few differences between the catalog and the web is that the web site offering reflects real-time inventory and doesn’t display out-of-stock times still on display in catalog pages. Shoppers who type in the catalog number of an item no longer on display online are given the information that the item is out of stock.

With more than 1,000 stores in North America and the United Kingdom, Talbots’ stores continue to produce the most sales, and the catalog remains the top advertising vehicle for all three channels, says the spokeswoman, adding, however, “The web is our fastest-growing channel.”

 

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