November 30, 2007, 12:00 AM

Apparel & Accessories Bringing merchandise and the store to online shoppers

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At both sites, the overall black-and-white theme stands out, and makes colors pop on the merchandise. Interested parties can visit "A&F; New Faces" to see more of those gorgeous black-and-white model shots, where the Abercrombie clothes seem almost an afterthought. Both sites also provide an 800-number where brand loyalists can report incidents of A&F; counterfeiting.

"Abercrombie.com clearly focuses on branding," says Craig Smith, founder of consulting firm Trinity Insight. "The home page offers no promotion or in-store messaging," just the large model shot. Smith admires the Flash-based "Get This Look" feature on the primary category pages (which allows shoppers to select a "look" and buy all the pieces on a single page) and the sliding-tool feature that lets customers quickly see products in large image sizes rather than a standard product grid. Dynamic color swatches make it easy to see the full range of choices, and a drop-down shopping bag saves the hassle of going back and forth. Back to top


`It`s a mall world`
At AE.com, the web site for Pittsburgh-based American Eagle Outfitters, it`s all about the lifestyle. AE.com knows its customers are young and hip and that they want apparel to match. From product photos to video content, this site sends a message that it gets who its customers are, and how they want to look and live.

"This web site does a great job of selling its lifestyle and the look," says Lee Diercks, managing director of Hillsborough, N.J.-based Clear Thinking Group, a con­sulting group.

And by selling this image, American Eagle can increase the number of items customers put in their shopping carts with each order, Diercks says. "If your customers want to buy the look, rather than just buy a product, they are more likely to buy multiple items in order to get that look."

In keeping with the young, hip image, one of AE.com`s unique features is a series of entertainment videos that are offered at the shopping site, as well as on YouTube, Facebeook , MySpace and in stores. These videos are clearly marketed for a demographic group that likes to hang out at the mall, whether that mall be physical or virtual.

The videos are a combination of American Eagle original content and of videos contributed by consumers in several genres, including music, comedy, drama and reality programming. The program was kicked off in late summer with "It`s a Mall World," a 12-episode series directed by Milo Ventimiglia of NBC-TV`s "Heroes." The episodes feature the lives of two record store employees, a greeter at an American Eagle store and two other mall employees.

Other featured programs include videos and songs from the group The Hourly Radio, as well as a video entitled "Class of `08," which allows site visitors to get to know this year`s graduating class.

A second feature that Diercks thinks is innovative is the site`s Wish List. While Wish Lists are common with sites that sell housewares and luxury items, Diercks says it is more unique among apparel sites. Back to top


A sensual experience
To shoppers who walk into an Anthropologie store, it`s quickly apparent this women`s apparel brand is out to capture consumers` hearts by appealing to all the senses. They`ll find the romantically styled clothing and accessories complemented with the sound of music, pleasing aromas, even a coffee bar that encourages them to stop, sip and relax.

"The assortment is more tactile than other brands—it`s a richer experience with more facets," says Michal Robinson, general manager at Anthopologie, based in Trenton, S.C. "We have carried that through the catalog, and that`s something we like to carry forward on the web."

Enhancements to the web site Anthropologie.com this year deliver on that effort better than ever. A site redesign streamlines navigation and affords an enhanced online replication of the brand`s look and feel, aided by features such as larger images, on-page zoom and earlier price visibility. This year`s move to a new e-commerce platform supports the increased visual and merchandising functionality with faster site performance and improved stability.

"For a company that does not rely on traditional advertising, the web site is the main source of visibility outside of our bricks-and-mortar stores," Robinson says.

Anthropologie this year has moved to strengthen the consistency between its web, store and catalog operations with a greater focus on cross-channel merchandising, creative and marketing efforts. And its striving to bring an ever-richer experience to its online customers will continue next year with plans for a downloadable desktop application that will bypass browser constraints to offer shoppers an even more compelling and interactive visual experience.

"The site represents the brand well," comments Lauren Freedman, president of The E-Tailing Group Inc., who cites such aspects as alternative views that let shoppers see items of apparel not only hung on mannequins in a presentation style that has become part of the brand`s distinctive look, but also on models for added visual information. "The soul of the brand is really delivered with the site`s products and imagery." Back to top


Conservative elegance
A 189-year-old company known for conservative elegance might be expected to struggle in the digital age. But New York-based BrooksBrothers.com has found a way to combine high-tech features with classic elegance so that it does not seem stodgy.

Take the text on each page of the web site, which is written in a font that looks like it came off an engraved invitation, and not from an online retail site. "We had the font created especially for us," says Jarid Lukin, e-commerce manager. "We wanted something unique because we believe there is no other company like us."

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