October 24, 2013, 12:14 PM

Skis.com bets holiday shoppers will pay full price for ski boots that fit

A multimedia campaign will promote its “guaranteed fit” program.

Lead Photo

Andy Schepper

As it heads into its peak selling season, Skis.com is cutting a new path toward increasing net holiday sales. In turn, it’s marketing something skiers are unlikely to find in their local ski shop, says Andy Schepper, vice president of operations at parent company Summit Sports Inc.

“We’re trying to make shopping online better than in a ski shop,” he says.

But it’s not trying to outdo stores by cutting prices, he says. Instead, next week Skis.com will launch an e-mail marketing program with SKI Magazine that will run until the week of Christmas. Called the “Guaranteed Fit Program,” it’s a marketing campaign designed to take the hassle out of buying ski boots, Schepper says.

“You can go into a ski shop and try on ski boots, and maybe spend 45 minutes with them and think they’re a good fit,” he says. But all too often, he adds, once a skier tries the boots on again at home or on the ski slopes, he realizes the fit isn’t right. And he may be stuck with a pair of boots that cost several hundred dollars.

Choosing the right ski boot isn’t easy for many skiers, Schepper notes, because there are so many variations including a boot’s height and width, stiffness and type of fasteners. Expert skiers typically use boots that are high and extremely stiff, which provides extra support as they make aggressive turns down steep slopes. Other skiers, particularly beginners, usually opt for lower-cut boots that are softer and more comfortable, and easier to walk in.

On Skis.com, which offers some 250 models of ski boots, online buyers can use sizing and buying guides that help them narrow a selection of boots that suit their skiing ability as well as their height, weight and preferred comfort level. Once they narrow a selection down to a handful of boots, the guaranteed fit program allows them to have three pairs shipped to their home, where they can take up to several weeks to try them on indoors (without creating scuff marks on the boots) before deciding whether to purchase a pair. The retailer is charging $19.99 for the service, usually with no additional charges for shipping to the home or for the return shipping of unwanted pairs of boots.

Skis.com kicked off a trial run of the program during last year’s holiday season, and experienced a 50% drop in the number of customers who returned boots without making a purchase. “We tried to make it economical for the customer as well as hassle-free,” Schepper says. “We weren’t sure what to expect, so were surprised at the results.”

While encouraging more shoppers to complete purchases, the program has helped the retailer maintain profit margins and sell products at full price, he adds.

Skis.com also ran a similar trial program last year for ski jackets, which after ski boots are the most difficult item for customers to find the right fit, Schepper says. In that program, the retailer experienced a 25% drop in the number of customers who returned jackets without making a purchase.

With the initial success of last year’s programs, Skis.com decided to roll them out this year from late October through most of December. In addition to e-mailing the promotion to a list of SKI Magazine subcribers, it will also run full-page ads in SKI, e-mail other lists, and promote the offer through online display ads and paid search campaigns.

Schepper says he expects the guaranteed fit program—which the e-retailer is already promoting on its web site—to help Skis.com take advantage of what appears to be a renewed interest by consumers in buying ski gear and apparel this year following recent years of weaker-than-usual sales caused by a lack of snowfall in ski areas throughout the United States. Sales so far this year are up 25% over last year, compared with 2012’s growth of 9.3% over 2011.

“Last ski season it didn’t start snowing until late in the winter, when it was too late for most to buy skis,” he says. “This season we’ve already taken a lot of orders for jackets with the guaranteed fit program.”

Summit Sports is No. 538 in the Internet Retailer 2013 Second 500.

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