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To further that concept, the merchant is testing access to its web site in 15 store locations. Customers can access Famous Footwear’s catalog of 1 million shoe styles, compared with the 11,000 to 12,000 typically carried in a store. This access is a major benefit because footwear shoppers understand their size may be out of stock or carried in another location than where they are shopping. As a result, they expect to have to hunt for what they want. “Extending this capability to the store is what people want because shoppers can see an item firsthand then immediately order it on the web site,” says Tocky Lawrence, a vice president at F. Curtis Barry & Co.
With shoe retailers developing more aggressive web strategies, innovations like these keep Famous Footwear a step ahead of the competition.
Gap.com, along with its sister sites OldNavy.com and BananaRepublic.com, has grown substantially in value over the past year to parent Gap Inc. Following a major overhaul of each of the sites one year ago-an ordeal that left the sites out of commission for two straight weeks-Gap Inc. re-emerged as an e-commerce leader. Its e-commerce sales returned to sharp growth as sales at stores declined, and its re-designs impressed technology experts with leading-edge use of rich media.
While raising ease of shopping to new levels, Gap realized a 31% increase in year-over-year sales at OldNavy.com alone to $68 million from $52 million for the second quarter ended July 29.
Industry experts say the ease of shopping that Gap put into its sites late last year has helped set new standards for how online retailers can leverage broadband-supported rich media technologies. A recent merchandising display on the home page of Gap.com, for instance, invited shoppers to view a scrolling gift guide. By simply mousing over it, the guide scrolls to the left or right with a series of product displays, and mousing over each display produces a pop-up box with product details.
In Gap’s shopping cart, shoppers can mouse over size and color options to see in real-time whether their preferences are in stock, then add products and continue shopping without hitting a back button. “We made the online features an extension of the store shopping experience,” says Will Hunsinger, general manager of Gap.com.
“Their site design is strong, and it makes a strong fashion statement,” says Colleen Coleman, an affiliate with retail consultants McMillan/Doolittle. “They have good content in terms of different trends, and they show you how to put together an outfit.”
One shortcoming, however, is that the redesigned sites lack a site search function. “That could cause them to lose convenience customers that want to get in and out quickly,” Coleman contends.
However, Gap launched last month Piperlime.com, its first online shoe store. Among its features is a site search function that offers a pull-down menu within the search window to search by product category. For Gap, this may be a sign of things to come.
When a shopper clicks the ever-present shopping cart button in the NikeStore retail e-commerce section of Nike.com, the cart doesn’t just pop out in a flash. It scrolls down to reveal all the goods a shopper has put in it.
The scrolling feature is a tiny part of the style and functionality that makes up the shopping experience at Nike.com, which was relaunched this year for the first time since it debuted in 1999. Nonetheless, the scrolling is important, says John Mayo-Smith, CTO at R/GA, which led the redesign, because it shows that even in minor details Nike.com is different from other specialty apparel sites. “When we bring all things together the overall impression is of a high-performance experience,” he says. “That lines up with the overall brand message-a high-performance site for a high-performance brand.”
Nike has invested a lot over the years in promoting its athletic footwear and apparel, running costly TV commercials and taking on celebrity endorsements from golf phenom Tiger Woods and others. Its web site needs to maintain the image set in other channels, Mayo-Smith says.
Using Flash technology, the redesigned site lets shoppers mouse over images for more written product data, activate a click-and-drag zoom feature to view texture, stitching and other intricate product details, and navigate by multiple topics including sport and product type as well as by men, women and kids.
In addition, shoppers can click any page into the Nike ID menu to use a configurator that lets them customize products with colors, features and their typed names for personal identification.
“Nike’s customer focus expertise shines through in examples such as featuring shoes which match the colors of the iPod Nano, and allowing their customers to engage with the brand through personalization within the Nike ID product line,” says Maris Daugherty, senior consultant with J.C. Williams Group.
But while perking up its site with rich media and multiple shopping options, Nike keeps shopping easy without letting shoppers get lost in lengthy clickstreams. “Nike tops off a great consumer experience with clear messaging, great online user tools and crisp merchandise editing,” Daugherty says.
Fashioning an edge
High-end fashion retailers like Nordstrom Inc. excel with stores that both dazzle and pamper shoppers. Attractive merchandise is presented in an elegant environment that, combined with personal service, usually makes for a pleasant and easy shopping experience.
Although it’s impossible to completely replicate that experience online, Nordstrom.com effectively complements and builds on the Nordstrom store environment. It brings apparel fashions to life with engaging rich media, allowing shoppers to easily zoom in and out while quickly checking multiple styles and colors, and it launched earlier this year a separate Flash-based Designer Collections section that lets visitors browse through playfully illustrated online boutiques featuring labels such as Donna Karan, Roberto Cavalli and Missoni.