November 30, 2005, 12:00 AM

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

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Where more is more

When was chosen as a Top 50 online retailer last year, a big part of the site’s selection was based on its broad range of merchandise. Who would have guessed that a year later, the site would have increased that already large selection by 50% from 105,000 items to nearly 150,000?

It’s all part of Macy’s desire to offer the broadest selection to the widest cross-section of customers. “While a lot of our focus has been in expanding our apparel and related accessories that constitute the core of our department store business, much of our growth has come from outside those core businesses,” says Kent Anderson, CEO of “We’ve added a lot to our home décor in terms of area rugs, candle holders, pillows and window treatments.”

In addition to expanding its products, Macy’s continues to make site improvements. One notable change is to inform the shopper earlier about the expected shipment times. Rather than at checkout, customers now can find out from the product description when the product is likely to arrive and where it is coming from. In the case of apparel, the information is available right after shoppers have chosen the size and color. Now if a customer is looking for an outfit for a special occasion, she will know right away if the item will arrive in time.

The broad product range and emphasis on assisting the customer is part of’s efforts to reinforce its department store image. “The depth of product and features like gift with purchase and the bridal registry are all about connecting the Macy’s brand to its web site,” says Lauren Freedman, president of The E-Tailing Group Inc. “This is a company with a strong brand reputation and its web site reflects that.”

Beyond shopping, offers a lot of services and even fun. Customers can type in a ZIP code and get not just the address of the nearest store, but that store’s hours and special offerings and events. The Wear & How section hosts videos of fashion advice for men from Donald Trump, P.Diddy, the CEO of Calvin Klein and the fashion director of Esquire magazine. Customers can click to view all of Macy’s TV commercials. And there is a special teen site with programming directed at young women.
Delivering classic style

It was an earlier store brand that coined the phrase, “Give the lady what she wants,” but these days, few multi-channel retailers have a web strategy that does that better than Talbots. The retailer of classic women’s apparel has maintained consistent merchandising, pricing and promotions across its stores and catalogs, tightly integrating those operations. The web site, launched in 1999, extends that approach to one more channel.

Talbots puts virtually the entire season’s catalog inventory online, a strategic decision that senior vice president of direct marketing and customer service Bruce Prescott says provides “a distinct advantage.” Phones in Talbots stores connect shoppers to Talbots’ call center, extending any store’s inventory to Talbots’ entire inventory. “The web is an extension of that,” says Prescott.

Talbots supports its comprehensive online offering with site search that’s up to the task, recently upgrading functionality to get shoppers to what they are looking for faster and incorporating new options such as sorting by bestseller status, price and other attributes.

With about 14% of Talbots’ $1.8 billion in revenue coming from direct sales and web sales 40% of that-up from 34% last year-the Internet remains the smallest share of Talbots’ sales. But Talbots doesn’t view the contribution of its web site solely in terms of online sales, leveraging it for marketing, merchandising and customer service across channels.

Exemplifying that approach and new this year is Style Search, which allows shoppers to reserve items they see on at a local store and be contacted by a store associate regarding availability. It saves customers time by allowing them to determine if an item is available before visiting a store and customers have repaid the favor by buying more. “A very high percentage of customers purchase additional items when they come in,” Prescott says.

Lauren Freedman, president of retail consultants The e-Tailing Group, gives the site high marks for strong product pages that feature enhancements such as item availability and merchandising such as a What’s New feature displaying the latest additions to the assortment. The Style Search feature Freedman terms “Amazing. I’ve tested it, and I got a call back within an hour,” she says. “The ability to drive online customers into the store is very powerful.”
Giving the boot to commoditization

Customization is the name of the game at And nowhere is that more obvious than at the Design Your Own Boots section.

Because Timberland has always been a big seller of boots, customized boots quickly have become the site’s biggest seller. And it doesn’t just give the shopper a few choices and call it customization. “We offer seven basic styles to begin with. Then we have 16 attributes with 10 to 15 choices for each attribute. Our customers can come up with options that create tens of millions of different boots,” says Troy Brown, senior director of e-commerce.

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