November 30, 2005, 12:00 AM

Apparel & Accessories With many ways to win online, apparel sites thrive by choosing the...

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A product page for down products, for instance, includes fashion tips for wearing down. Fit guides are included on all the jeans pages and information about care of fabrics is woven into applicable product pages. Integrated content is one of the things Eddie Bauer has learned its customers want. “Over the last 12 to 18 months, we put a lot more focus on customer usability tests,” Staudinger says. “We’ve developed a methodology that allows us to test what our customers like.”

As part of that testing, Eddie Bauer keeps close tabs on which products are selling online and which are not. Hot sellers may be promoted to a better page position while slow sellers may be incorporated into special promotions and sales.

Eddie Bauer also puts a lot of attention on its visual presentation. “There is a lot you can offer customers online, but you can’t offer them the ability to touch and feel the merchandise,” Staudinger says. “So you have to make up for that by heightening what customers get from their other senses.”

And visitors to the site notice that. “Eddie Bauer really knows how to romance the product and it gives you the same look and feel you would expect at one of its stores,” says Lauren Freedman, president of consultants The e-tailing Group.

Eddie Bauer has been improving its internal search capabilities so that shoppers get a list of products that match the query and additional information as well. “We’ve incorporated rich content into our search results,” Staudinger says. “We think customers want more.”
Bonding in a big way has found success in carving out a niche within a niche-active wear for plus-sized women. The 10-year-old web and catalog retailer will have $10 million-plus in annual sales this year.

But Junonia’s success goes beyond defining a super niche. Just as important is the one-to-one relationship founder and president Anne Kelly cultivates with shoppers. Callers to Junonia’s general number hear a recorded greeting from Kelly while they wait to be connected to a customer-service representative.

Shoppers also are encouraged to contact Kelly via e-mail with comments, suggestions and success stories. “Anne Kelly is a strong presence on the site,” says Mary Brett Whitfield, senior vice president, Retail Forward. “For a plus-sized customer to see someone on the front page that is clearly one of them, clearly listening to them, creates a lot of loyalty.”

That contact with customers often dictates which styles Junonia carries. For example, Junonia stocks the longer shirts many of its customers prefer even though short tops are the latest trend, Kelly says. To further meet customer demands, Junonia started a private-label line manufactured to its specifications.

Customer comments also led to changes in the technical side of web site. Junonia recently introduced a tool that allows customers to search for clothes by size. “That was on our customers’ wish lists for a long time,” Kelly says.

In addition, Junonia has strengthened the site’s search function to enable customers to search for items by activity, for example, golfing, as well as by product category. And it will be posting a browseable online catalog this month, Kelly says.

“A lot of people have asked us for catalogs who haven’t yet purchased from us,” she says. “These are names we think we can reach very cost effectively by sending an e-mail inviting them to click to our new catalog.”

The catalog, which will be produced by Paper Catalogs Online, is an exact replica of Junonia’s print catalog, according to Kelly. It will feature zoom capabilities and will be connected to the site’s shopping cart.
The art of the easy

With 3,500 products and multiple SKUs of each online, quickly finding what they want from a retailer-and having fun while doing it-might seem unlikely for shoppers. But has made an art of serving up precisely that experience, one reason it is one of only two e-retailers recognized in all seven of Internet Retailer’s Best of the Web.

Beyond the consistently strong value proposition of the merchandise itself and industry-leading customer service offered via call center chat and phone, continues to excel in how it exposes its offering to shoppers online. “A lot of retailers lose out because the are not doing a good job of making what they have visible on the site to customers,” says Mary Brett Whitfield, senior vice president, Retail Forward Inc. “The sites that have a better shot at conversions are those that give customers a good starting point. Lands’ End has historically been very good at evolving those shopping tools.”

Those include features such as the Virtual Model that lets shoppers visualize garments’ fitted appearance. Another example is the seasonal outwear headquarters, updated and reintroduced this year with a find-and-compare feature that helps shoppers choose cold-weather gear by allowing them to compare product attributes such as wind resistance and water repellence.

Director of e-commerce Bert Kolz notes that the site delivers the outerwear guide without using flash technology. “A portion of shoppers on the Internet are still on slower connections, so we’ve gone out of our way to create a tool that everyone can use,” he says. “It’s functional, it’s practical, it’s allowing you to shop in different ways for what you are looking for. That’s really what Lands’ End is all about.”

Kolz also notes that while has been characterized by innovation including its shopping tools, the site doesn’t require customers to use them to shop: They can find and buy an item quickly without further exploration if they so choose. “We don’t make customers use tools unless it absolutely helps in the shopping process,” he says. “Our core competencies at Lands’ End are innovation and customer service. And our web site continues to focus on ways to make shopping easier.”

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