July 31, 2007, 12:00 AM

Zappos expands merchandising footprint with 6pm.com

With its plan to buy footwear and accessories site 6pm.com from eBags.com, Zappos expects to offer a new experience based more on personalized shopping and new product combinations than on the strong focus on customer service offered on Zappos.com. The deal will let eBags concentrate on its core luggage and handbag business.

Online shoppers looking for the same item may react to merchant sites very differently as driven by different needs and preferences. For instance, one shopper may value the speed of the shopping experience and availability of hard-to-find sizes; another may respond to advanced visual merchandising displays and on-­target cross-sell offers.

In announcing this month that it’s agreed to acquire footwear and accessories site 6pm.com from eBags.com, online shoe retailer Zappos.com is acknowledging that such subtle yet critical distinctions in what drives shoppers are a fact of life, even within a single category.

“We recognize there are a variety of different types of consumers out there. Through Zappos.com and 6pm.com, we want to provide them with the online shopping experience that reflects their unique needs,” says Tony Hsieh, Zappos.com CEO. Terms of the acquisition, expected to close within three months, weren’t disclosed. EBags had launched 6 p.m. in November 2005 in a bid for the larger accessories and shoe market.

Hsieh says that while Zappos.com is heavily focused on customer service with features such as free overnight shipping and free return shipping, “6pm will focus on a different set of things that aren’t as service-focused, so that is the reason for continuing to operate it as a separate web site.” 6pm.com will be migrated to Zappos’ back-end technology systems, he adds.

It’s time for 6pm

6pm.com has features that aren’t on Zappos.com which are attractive to certain customers, and some new features will be added, Hsieh says. He declined to elaborate pending the close of the deal. However, 6pm.com has developed merchandising features, including one that matches shoes with handbags, in an application that allows shoppers to search through the 6pm.com product inventory, rate and review the products they like, and view a list of personalized shoe and accessory matches based on trend, color, fabrication and brand. The feature enables customers to look at different product combinations that are also ranked and reviewed by other site visitors.

EBags CEO Jon Nordmark says 6pm.com quadrupled in size during the three years in which it was owned by eBags, though he did not disclose numbers. The deal leaves eBags free to concentrate on its core luggage and handbag business as well as growing international sales. Besides eBags.com, since 2004 eBags Inc. has operated a web site in the United Kingdom, where sales are up 50% over the past 12 months, the company says.

The site launched by eBags in Germany in 2005 has been temporarily out of operation since February while eBags addresses logistical and operational issues, according to an eBags spokeswoman. EBags also currently operates web sites for luggage manufacturer Tumi in the U.S., Germany and Japan.

mary@verticalwebmedia.com

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