November 30, 2005, 12:00 AM

Apparel & Accessories With many ways to win online, apparel sites thrive by choosing the...

Apparel sites can go broad and deep, boasting big assortments – but they must then wrestle with guiding the shopper through it all to find what she is searching for. Or they can focus in on the highly specialized – but to thrive, they must connect with that narrower audience, and foster in it the loyalty that sparks repeated purchases. Category winners in Apparel & Accessories this year represent both ends of that spectrum.

 

Internet Retailer Best of the Web 2006

Anthropologie.com
EddieBauer.com
Junonia.com
LandsEnd.com
Macys.com
Talbots.com
Timberland.com
Tommy.com

Apparel sites can go broad and deep, boasting big assortments--but they must then wrestle with guiding the shopper through it all to find what she is searching for. Or they can focus in on the highly specialized--but to thrive, they must connect with that narrower audience, and foster in it the loyalty that sparks repeated purchases.

Category winners in Apparel & Accessories this year represent both ends of that spectrum. Take Lands` End, an Internet Retailer Top 50 winner for the seventh consecutive year, a distinction shared only by Amazon. With 3,500 products and an online assortment spanning multiple SKUs of each, finding their way might be daunting for shoppers who don`t already know exactly what they want going in--were it not for the fact that LandsEnd.com continues to excel at guiding shoppers through the process.

"A lot of retailers lose out because they don`t do a good job of making what they have on the site visible to customers," says Mary Brett Whitfield, senior vice president at Retail Forward Inc. "The sites that have a better shot at ultimately converting customers are those that give them a good starting point." LandsEnd.com tackles that problem with powerful site search functionality and shopping tools that help sell, backed up by some of retail`s best customer service.

EddieBauer.com helps _customers choose by integrating editorial content such as fit guides and information on fashion trends right into product pages. "We`ve learned from our customers that content is important to the shopping experience," says Mark Staudinger, vice president of international and e-commerce operations. "So rather than put editorial content in a microsite or shift it off to the side, we apply the content directly to the product page." That intelligence is gleaned from ongoing _usability testing, something for which EddieBauer.com has developed a regular methodology so as to keep consumers happy--and keep itself in the forefront of its category online.

Apparel site Junonia.com targets the specialized customer group of plus-sized women. Though the audience segment is limited, Junonia has nevertheless grown to $10 million in sales over the past several years with a formula that engenders loyalty and a sense of community among customers. Founder and CEO Anne Kelly fosters a one-to-one relationship with customers, with a photo on the home page, a link there to her e-mail address and product developments that reflect customer comments.

Lands` End, Eddie Bauer, Junonia--and all the other Apparel category winners--show that while there are many ways to win online, success is a matter of finding and staying with the approach that works best for them and their customers.


Anthropologie.com
Creative chic

Here`s a tough assignment: Cultivate web sales through mostly organic growth driven by a unique collection of merchandise. Present that merchandise in artistic arrangements that tell a story about products, making them subtly engaging to shoppers. But don`t over-emphasize ease of shopping or plan on appealing to a universal audience.

And at the end of the year, show that web sales have doubled at least two years in a row.

Welcome to the world of Anthropologie.com, which expects to double sales this year over 2004, says Ranjana Sharma, manager of e-commerce. A lifestyle site as much as a retailer of women`s and girl`s apparel and accessories, plus selected home furnishings, Anthropologie sells the experience of shopping the world, Sharma says. "Our customers would like to go to different places in the world and pick out things and find the story behind them, but they don`t have the time, so we do it for them," she says.

Anthropologie tells the story in the way it presents merchandise. The site uses an unusual collection of products, ranging from apparel and handbags to couches and window treatments, to engage customers. It then coordinates product presentations and provides different ways of viewing each item, with dresses that shoppers can click to see on models, or lampshades that can be zoomed in to see the details of a decorative weave. "The graphics and photography reflect the eclectic spirit of Anthropologie`s merchandise and make you want to buy," says Keven Wilder, owner of retail consultants Wilder & Associates in Chicago.

Every other week, Anthropologie changes about 40 collections of images that make up a page, to present fresh and fashion-forward merchandise displays, with no pricing or promotional material, just images of its apparel and other products in appealing scenes. Clicking on a category or product link takes a shopper to one or more of these creatives on the way to a buy page--a merchandising tactic that at first worried Sharma, but turned out to suit Anthropologie`s strategy of telling a story about its products. "We were concerned that we were stepping beyond a basic rule of e-commerce by making customers add clicks to get to a buy page," she says. "But in reality it has helped our sales."


EddieBauer.com
The customer decides

Providing editorial content about fashion trends, care of fabrics or fit guides is certainly nothing new to online retailers that sell apparel. But what sets EddieBauer.com apart from the crowd is how it integrates the editorial content into its product pages.

“We spend a lot of time focusing on our content,” says Mark Staudinger, vice president of international and e-commerce operations. “And we’ve learned from our customers that content is important to the shopping experience. So rather than put editorial content on a microsite or shift it off to the side, we apply the content directly to the product page.”

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