December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

Lands` End reinvents the buddy system

One drawback of Web shopping is that no one’s around to answer those all-important questions: Is this really my color? Will these pants make me look fat? makes a second opinion possible through Shop With A Friend. Launched this fall, the new interactive tool allows shoppers in different locales to team up and view the Lands’ End Web site in tandem.

A shopper signs on to the service and gets a password to share with a companion, who uses the code to join the shopping session. Whenever one shopper moves to a new page, the same page pops up on the companion’s screen. Shoppers without additional phone lines or cell phones can use a Web chat box to exchange comments. The software, created by Webline Communications, is exclusive to Lands’ End through the holidays.

Shop With a Friend follows other interactive tools, such as an virtual modeling service. “We’re trying to take advantage of what technology offers,” says Bill Bass, vice president of e-commerce, “while trying to minimize its downside.”

Matt Stamski, a senior analyst at Gomez Advisors gives the tool a thumbs up: “It’s yet another thing that differentiates Lands’ End.”

The new tool will push expectations higher for other online apparel retailers, says Evie Dykema, an analyst at Forrester Research.

Of course, features like Shop With a Friend won’t appeal to every consumer. Arranging a session takes a bit of planning-and impatient shoppers might find the process cumbersome.

That’s why Shop With a Friend will probably drive more traffic than more sales. “Only a slim majority will actually shop online with their friends or family on a regular basis,” says Dykema.

After all, not everyone needs a social experience to buy a shirt.

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