November 21, 2008, 12:00 AM

Sporting Goods

(Page 3 of 3)

The Most Similar Shoe comparison feature points out shoes with common traits. “If you went into the running store and told the rep what you ran in, these are the shoes he would bring out,” says Joe Rubio, general manager of Running Warehouse LLC. “It’s another way we try to replicate the store experience.”

The site also offers 360-degree shoe views and runner-focused product details, such as the height of the toe box and arch structure. A scale accompanying each shoe rates pronation control and support.

“All the information and rich technology reinforces trust in the company and brand and in the purchase of the product,” says Alexandra Sotereanos, senior engagement manager at retail consultancy McMillan Doolittle LLP.

Rubio takes inspiration for new site features from everyday life. Paging through car magazine Road&Track;, for example, he noticed a feature called First Drive-a writer’s take on a new vehicle after a quick spin. That inspired a video segment the retailer is developing called First Run-a short clip of a runner offering a review of a new shoe after a test run.

And Rubio is not above paging through his wife’s reading material for ideas either.

“My wife gets People magazine and they have clothing sections that are pretty well laid out,” he says. “I look at that for apparel ideas.” Back to top


Straight to video
Online shoppers like product reviews, but it’s tough to review skis because typically a ski is offered just for one season. By the time a skier could write a review, the ski season is likely coming to an end.

That’s why Steve Kopitz, president and CEO of Summit Sports, which operates eight stores and several web sites, takes 30 of his employees to an annual event in February where ski and snowboard manufacturers give retailers an opportunity to test new products. Kopitz has his employees try out scores of skis and snowboards. Then they glide right from the slopes to a waiting videographer to tape product reviews.

Those videos are posted to Skis.com, an e-commerce site owned by Summit, so that customers can view them before ski season begins. “Competitors don’t have reviews on their sites because nobody’s skied these products,” Kopitz says.

Skis.com first posted the video reviews last year, and also posted 300 of them on YouTube, generating more than 1 million views, Kopitz says. “That brings credibility, brand recognition and traffic to our site,” Kopitz says. During ski season, unique visitors to Skis.com surge to an average of 225,000 per month, compared to a monthly average of 95,000 for the year.

This year the reviews include a new element: each tester does a video describing his skiing experience, so visitors can find reviewers with a skill level like theirs.

Another new feature this year allows shoppers to create a package of products based on skill level. They choose skis and bindings, then can choose from a variety of other products, such as boots, poles and apparel. “We make sure customers get the exact right product,” Kopitz says. “There’s no mixing of a low-end boot with a high-end ski with inappropriate binding.”

“Skis.com is trying to establish itself as a portal of information for anyone who is interested in skiing,” says Ayat Shukairy, a managing partner with Invesp Consulting, which specializes in optimizing e-commerce sites. She thinks that’s an excellent strategy, and one that could be advanced with the addition of blogs and forums. Back to top


Looking up
TheNorthFace.com may be new to e-commerce, but its staggering imagery, content and media firmly establish the site as a serious online retail contender.

Previously the outdoor gear manufacturer, a division of VF Outdoor Inc., sold through the web sites of partner retailers. It launched its own direct-to-consumer site this year.

One of the biggest draws of the site is the videos that offer a balance of beauty and performance, says Mara Devitt, partner at retail consultancy McMillan Doolittle LLP.

“The sophisticated imagery on the site inspires action and successfully showcases the strengths of the product under real working conditions,” she says.

Indeed, the site showcases many of the more than 50 athletes The North Face sponsors doing what they do best-testing the limit. An expedition video titled Trango Passion, for example, follows two climbers as they conquer a peak in Pakistan. The athletes’ personal blogs vividly describe their exploits, and photos capture breathtaking scenes along the way.

While mesmerizing photos are great, the company has learned that a site that sells needs different content from an informational site, says Greg Pulsifer general manager of e-commerce. “We’ve had to work on incorporating content and optimizing product detail pages,” he says. “We listened to the feedback and people were telling us they want to know the weight of our tents and they want more information about materials.”

The new mindset also inspired innovations designed to make shopping easier. For example, if the site is out of a particular SKU, a new service searches the inventory of other e-retailers selling North Face merchandise. If the product is available elsewhere, TheNorthFace.com directs the consumer to the retailer’s site.

Features on the horizon include a buy online, pick up in store option, and a new focus on spring and summer apparel, equipment and gear. The North Face brand has always had a strong following for alpine sports and now hopes to expand in warm-weather activities, Pulsifer says.

There’s a lot on the to-do list, he says. Indeed, at less than a year old, TheNorthFace.com is far from reaching its peak.

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