November 30, 2007, 12:00 AM

Apparel & Accessories Bringing merchandise and the store to online shoppers

(Page 7 of 9)

On PacSun.com there are new blogs and expanded style selections. The site has added mobile functionality that can send alerts about sales, new styles and special events several times a month to shoppers who have opted to receive the wireless alerts.

PacSun.com also has established pages on social networking sites such as Facebook.com and MySpace.com and video sharing site YouTube.com.

The company created a MySpace profile to be close to its consumer base, Clark says. "We are looking for ways to connect with our customers where they spend lot of time. On MySpace, we can feed them content where they hang out," she says.

PacSun.com also has begun sponsoring amateur surfers, skateboarders and snowboarders. Young athletes can apply online at PacSunTeam.com and get exposure to sponsors for their offline activities, in addition to interacting with their peers.

PacSun.com community members get discount cards for stores and the web site and are assigned missions, such as competing in a local sporting event and reporting back with the results, Clark says.

In addition to the new content, PacSun deployed content delivery technology from Akamai Technologies Inc. in 2007. The goal was to improve the user experience by reducing download time and page uptime. So far, the technology upgrade has decreased page download time by more than 50%, Clark says. Back to top


Having a dialogue

Consumer brand manufacturer and multi-channel retailer Patagonia believes an open dialogue with shoppers is the best way to state its position on preserving the environment, build trust in the brand and ultimately increase sales. In 2007 the company introduced several new ways to have a dialogue with consumers on its e-commerce site.

One feature shows where products are made, what materials are used and their environmental impact. Shoppers selecting a men`s rain shell jacket, for example, see a world map showing the base material is made in Japan, then shipped to Vietnam where it`s sewn before heading to the U.S. for distribution.

Each stage is explained with still images, audio or videos using Flash technology developed by The Royal Order of Experience Design, a Chicago-based web design company.

The Footprint Chronicles includes a frank explanation of the upsides and downsides of materials used in a garment. The rain shell includes a chemical that`s persistent in the environment, but while potentially harmful, the substance is the best available and most eco-friendly among those that repel water.

That revelation has generated pointed discussion on Patagonia.com`s blog, called The Cleanest Line. Also unveiled in 2007, the blog is accessible on the site`s home page and is open to Patagonia employees. It provides a forum for discussing the company`s products, outdoor activities and environmental issues, says Bill Boland, Patagonia.com`s creative director.

In a more direct effort to increase sales, Patagonia.com launched a feature in late October that directs shoppers to alternate sources for out-of-stock products. If a product is unavailable, shoppers find a toll-free number in an area on the site, which they can call and find agents who will try to locate the product at a store. Below the toll-free number are logos of partner stores that have the requested item in stock. Clicking the logo takes the shopper to that product on the partner`s site.

All the site improvements have one goal in mind. "We want to help Patagonia customers get our products," Bolden says. "The customer is the focus of our site design." Back to top


Chic shopping
The young women who shop Rampage.com know what they like, and that`s hot apparel fashions. Hot items sell out quickly, of course, often leaving shoppers to browse elsewhere for a certain look and fit. But Rampage has found a way to keep shoppers engaged.

If a customer who wants a certain green silk party dress, size 9, finds her color and measurement out of stock, she can click a pop-up window to request an e-mail about when it or a similar product will arrive to her specifications. The pop-up is already printed with a photo as well as the name, color and size of the desired product; the shopper just enters her name and e-mail address and hits "send."

The "Tell Me When It`s In Stock" feature has not only helped to engage shoppers and increase sales, but also to capture the purchasing intentions of customers who otherwise might have left, says director of operations Francheska Anderson. "Before, we could always see when shoppers clicked items, but now we also know what items they really wanted to buy," she says.

The "Tell Me" window is just the latest in innovative shopping features that Rampage has launched in recent years. Having mostly exited the retail chain business—it has closed nearly all of the more than 50 Rampage stores it once operated in major metropolitan shopping districts—it has come to rely mostly on Rampage.com to interact with its customers.

Shoppers can mix and match items in a virtual outfit builder, for example, by dragging images from Rampage.com`s entire product line into a fitting room, then dragging them into a staging area to create partial or complete outfits. Shoppers can save the finished outfits, which can include shoes and purses as well as blouses, sweaters, pants, skirts or dresses, for future reference and e-mail them to friends.

"Competing in the hyper-fickle young women`s fashion industry, Rampage has employed technology that not only differentiates it but that also demonstrate a profound knowledge of its demographic," says Steve Rowen, analyst with research and advisory firm RSR Research. Back to top


Running to meet needs
Adding bells and whistles to a site design means little if they slow page downloads and get in the way of the marketing and merchandising strategy. By focusing on speed and simplicity, Manhattan Beach, Calif.-based Skechers Inc. designed a sleek web site that serves up product pages lightning fast and makes navigation extremely easy.
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