November 30, 2007, 12:00 AM

Apparel & Accessories Bringing merchandise and the store to online shoppers

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Many such details contribute to the overall feel of the site. "The font choice, photos and copy is very consistent with the brand," says Mark Lee, founder of consulting firm The Mark Lee Group. "The copy reinforces the luxury image with words like `classic,` `heritage,` `rich` and `elegant.` Even the preferred customer event notice on the home page is as traditional and understated as a wedding invitation."

BrooksBrothers.com backs up the classic elegance with state-of-the art product enhancements, such as those found in its customized shirt section. Customers can create the shirt they want by selecting the fabric, fit style, collar cuff and monograms. Then they can view what they have created before hitting the purchase button.

"We`ve had a 41% increase in our customized shirt sales with this feature," Lukin says. "And it has cut down on the number of returns."

Lee notes that the build-a-shirt page is "fun," but more important it allows customers to choose among the options without having to start over.

The build-a-shirt feature is so popular that store sales associates now invite customers, while they are in the store, to go to the web site and view their customized shirts before placing an order. "Our web site is more than a sales vehicle," Lukin says. "It is an opportunity to educate customers about clothing as well as create a consistent and seamless link in our multi-channel strategy."

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Way beyond mugs
Personalizing products may seem like a cool, new idea to some web retailers, but it`s old stuff at CafePress.com, which takes the concept far beyond putting a name on a mug. In one of the more unusual business models in online retail, CafePress, which launched in 1999, lets consumers design products, either for sale or for their own use, and provides an online marketplace serving both those who design and seek to sell products and shoppers on the lookout for unique items.

"Our concept is really user-generated commerce," says Jill Ambrose, chief marketing officer of the Foster City, Calif.-based company.

At CafePress, consumers upload original designs for printing on products ranging from t-shirts to posters. CafePress provides either a free online shop or a fee-based shop with added features, produces on demand items ordered by shoppers, and handles shipping and payment transactions, retaining a portion of each sale. It also uses its production capacities to print and package books and CDs of original content uploaded by its members.

With 130 million products for sale at the site, CafePress invested this year in technology to speed up shopper access to the catalog. It now ranks consistently among Gomez Inc.`s top 10 retail sites in response rate and availability.

Modifications to the shopping cart and product pages this year have lifted conversions by 15%, Ambrose says. And in an innovative take on online gift certificates, CafePress in November launched a Gift This Cart feature that uses e-mail to deliver a shopping cart containing images of products selected by the gift giver, which the recipient can click on to redeem or to swap out for something else.

CafePress has built a robust online community of about 5 million buyers and sellers. The E-tailing Group president Lauren Freedman likens it to eBay, with community-supporting features such as newsletters and forums that leverage the presence of both buyers and sellers in the same environment to swap ideas that help promote sales. And for the seekers of unusual products, Freedman adds, "A really broad assortment makes this a destination." Back to top


Fast follower
Just because you`re a high-end reseller of fashion accessories doesn`t mean you can`t borrow online sales tactics from mass-merchandise retailers. You just have to implement the features in a manner in keeping with your brand image.

That`s what happened at New York-based Coach Inc. when it began allowing customers to order handbags and other fashion accessories online and then pick them up at a nearby Coach store. The feature has been successful at increasing Coach sales and, possibly more important, at integrating Coach`s web sales with its physical operations.

"In-store pickup has been used by companies like BestBuy and Circuit City, but we`re the first in our space to try this and it quickly has become very successful at meeting the needs of customers who want instant gratification or want to avoid paying shipping costs," says David Duplantis, Coach senior vice president of retail merchandising.

"The store pickup is a nice feature and is well integrated into the site," says Mark Lee, founder of Charlottesville, Va.-based consulting firm The Mark Lee Group. For urban and suburban shoppers desperate to get their Coach product right away, there`s a "find this item" button that locates stores within 50 miles that have the item, Lee notes.

This feature is one of many ways Coach goes the extra mile to satisfy a clientele used to high-end service.

In November, the chain implemented another application of a web sales tactic common outside its industry—a gift registry. Like retailers of household goods items, Coach believes its customers want to let their friends and family know what they would like to receive. Using the registry, customers list special occasions and select items they like. When items are purchased, they go off the list to avoid duplicates.

Coach is also known for its "try it online" feature for handbags. The customer chooses a handbag, then notes if she is tall, short or in-between. A model will then appear holding the handbag so the customer knows where the bag falls on their body, Duplantis explains. Back to top


Visualizing the big day
2007 was a big year for DavidsBridal.com with the introduction of a line of bridal gowns for online sale only and the debut of an online "dress your wedding party" feature. And the company has more plans in store for 2008.
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