November 29, 2006, 12:00 AM

Apparel & Accessories

(Page 3 of 4)

To Nordstrom, offering rich media-enhanced online shopping is a must for its customer base. “We know our customers have high expectations in how they shop, and we need to be ahead of the game,” says Jamie Nordstrom, president of Nordstrom Direct, the online and catalog unit of Nordstrom Inc.

But Nordstrom also realizes that flashy product presentations also must be backed by exceptional customer service and ease of making purchases. In the top navigation bar on each page, for instance, it offers a customer service link that offers three varieties of live chat-with a customer service rep, a beauty specialist or a designer specialist-as well as a toll-free number and additional links to information on order status, gift cards and payment options.

It also excels at communicating its combination of fashion and customer service, says Colleen Coleman, an affiliate of retail consultants McMillan/Doolittle. “Nordstrom effectively transmits several messages on a single page without it looking cluttered. That’s an art,” she says.

Unlike many retailers whose home pages focus mostly on pricing offers, she adds, Nordstrom blends price with content-like peeks into its Designer Collections boutiques and a section on gift-wrapping. And within category and product pages, it offers multiple ways to shop, such as by brand or department.

“We’re not resting on our laurels,” Nordstrom says. “We’re working hard to meet our customers’ expectations.”

At Ralph Lauren’s, shoppers find content ranging from videos on golfing tips from pro Davis Love III to pages of photographs and text that advise on how to wear skirts in the latest fashionable outfits.

“Our site embraces the concept of ‘merchantainment,’ where customers can browse our products, get style advice and experience our exclusive editorial and imaging content,” says Sarah Gallagher, president of “We leverage the limitless space that the Internet offers to provide an experience to our customers that can only be done online.”

That experience provides a consistent if at times subtle reminder of how Ralph Lauren’s products-including home furnishings as well as apparel fashions-can be part of a shopper’s everyday needs. “By trend, brand and category, they’re helping customers realize how Polo Ralph Lauren fits into their lives,” says Colleen Coleman, an affiliate with retail consultants McMillan/Doolittle.

Shoppers who may not have thought of Ralph Lauren as a source of sports attire, for example, get fashion tips along with sports advice when clicking into one of’s instructional sports videos. They can listen to tips from Davis Love on how to drive a golf ball into the wind, watching him swing as the camera focuses on the Polo logo that appears on his sweater.

Visitors who prefer to watch a video about rock singer Sheryl Crow can see clips of her performances and hear about her preference for wearing comfortable apparel, as she comments, “I have a velvet Ralph Lauren jacket that I find that I can wear every year.” also offers extensive advice on how to engage in current fashions-how to wear a long skirt as part of a fashionable fall outfit, for instance, or how to dress up a bedroom with trendy linens.

One thing it could do better, Coleman says, would be to let shoppers click directly from its video content to purchase the featured merchandise. “Being able to purchase directly from the video would respect the customer’s time needs,” she says, “but overall is a markedly different site that is doing several things right.”
Making a comeback

How do you work your way back from a Chapter 11 bankruptcy and into the top ranks of e-retailers? Redesign your web site. That’s exactly what did in October 2005. In the process, it transformed itself from just another struggling retailer of women’s apparel and home products to a fashion resource with growing sales and engaged customers.

And it didn’t take long for the new site to show an impact on Spiegel’s financial performance. Overall company sales in the fourth quarter of 2005 rose 26% over the year-earlier period, with the web accounting for about 50% of total sales, says Tony Chivari, senior vice president of marketing.

The new design was crucial in addressing the biggest problem facing Spiegel: Convincing its target customers-women in their mid-40s, college educated and employed full-time-that it no longer was the stodgy department-store-in-print. “We talked about being a start-up with a 140-year brand,” Chivari says.

Based on customer research, Spiegel re-invented itself as a cross-channel “idea resource” that sells versatile, unique apparel and fashionable home products through its web site and catalog. It designed its web site and catalog to mirror each other, using similar content and graphics.

“It’s seamless whether you get the catalog in the mail or you order online,” says John Yunker, president, Byte Level Research. “They make it easy to do that.”

Spiegel also made changes in navigation, allowing shoppers to search by category or collection. The new design also enables customer to buy an outfit or just one item with a single click. And the retailer altered the checkout process to make it similar to competitors’, including adding quick links to shipping, security, returns policy, and guarantee.

“We decided checkout wasn’t the place to be interesting or innovative,” Chivari says. “The customer is becoming more familiar with Internet shopping. You don’t really want to be too different here.”

Spiegel’s site redesign apparently struck a responsive chord with consumers. Conversion rates have increased 59% for new customers and 43% for old customers. Not bad for a retailer some had pegged as a has-been.
A new sense of style
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