December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

There`s almost no end to all the clever features in store for shoppers at Lands` End

The preppie but plain togs at Lands’ End contrast sharply with the e-retailer’s feature-laden Web site, a definite draw for shoppers with simple tastes looking for a fun, customized shopping experience. Barrett Ladd, senior retail analyst for Gomez Advisors, lauds for “inventing Web-based tools that differentiate it and create a buzz.” She cites features like Lands’ End Live, which allows visitors to connect to customer service agents via real-time Web chat.

Gomez ranked Lands’ End second out of 23 online outfitters on its Internet Apparel Store Scorecard, outperforming others in the category. No automated e-mail here. Each customer gets a personal response from the customer service staff. Other analysts are equally effusive. Lands’ End weighed in at #1 in Forrester Research’s PowerRanking for apparel e-retailers. “Good value, speedy e-mail replies and immediate phone response catapult Lands’ End to the top,” the reviewers raved. “Its site covers the basics well, with multiple navigation options and real-time product availability.”

With so many fans, it’s not surprising the site’s traffic and sales are climbing. FY 2000 traffic eclipsed 1999 numbers-38 million unique visitors compared to 15 million, says Jeremy Hauser, the site’s research and analysis specialist. Sales also more than doubled in FY 2000, totaling $138 million-10.5% of the company’s overall sales-over 1999’s $61 million, 4.5% of the revenue pie. “To increase buying, we’re trying to make the experience friendly and a lot of fun,” says Hauser. “If it’s fun to shop, you’ll probably buy.”

Ease is part of the equation, too. The site’s straightforward product categories (apparel for women, men and children, home furnishings, luggage, and gifts) are all accessible from a navigation bar along the top of the home page. Gift buyers have their own set of quick and painless navigation options-they simply choose a recipient or occasion, such as wedding, new baby, kids or home.

The clothing is conservative, but the site is hip to other fashions of the day. Shoppers baffled by the meaning of “business casual” can take the site’s Business Casual Interactive Shopping Guide for a spin, creating ensembles that fit the sometimes-ambiguous definition. Oxford Express allows you to pick the perfect dress shirt from the nearly 10,000 styles, colors and sizes.

Another innovation is the SwimFinder, a godsend for women who dread going to the mall to model bathing suits before finding one that’s flattering. This tool allows women to select a suit based on body shape or camouflaging figure flaws, such as wide hips or a hefty behind.

A land mine is that these and other interactive shopping often don’t work properly or quickly with a 56Kbps or slower connection. The personal model-a feature that other e-retailers are sure to copy-is one example. By filling in information about body and facial shape as well as hair length and color, a model that looks remarkably like you is created on the fly. Shoppers then can “try on” outfits before they buy.

The feature may work better with DSL service or a cable modem, but inventory answers are always fast. The site is synced up with the inventory system, which means that you immediately know when an item you try to put in your shopping cart isn’t available in your size or color. Added up, says Ladd, you get a “market leader in terms of the tools and features they are putting on their site. They have shown that they have a commitment to their Web presence and that they are not afraid to invest in the technology.”

Janet Kalbhen is a Web developer and content specialist in the Chicago area.

- Time to load home page: 20 seconds

(56K connection)

- Time between pages: 17 seconds

- Total clicks to merchandise: 2

- Site features: Female shoppers should test-drive the “personal model,” which allows them to create mannequins that look like them and try on outfits before buying.

- Ease of contacting company: Clicking on the help button whisks visitors to a page with phone and fax numbers as well as e-mail addresses.

- Ease of ordering and paying for merchandise: The shopping bag is always one click away in the top nav bar. Registering for a personal shopping account speeds the checkout process.

- Privacy/payment policies: Accessible from every page via a link built into the left nav bar. They are succinct and don’t hide behind fine print.

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