November 30, 2007, 12:00 AM

Apparel & Accessories Bringing merchandise and the store to online shoppers

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" is definitely a high-fashion site," says Chris Vicente, senior retail practice manager at consulting firm BearingPoint, although he found it somewhat slow to load. He asked a female colleague to check out the site, and she felt the alternative views of jeans gave her a good idea of which product would fit her best. "But," Vicente adds, "she did say she wanted to go to the store to verify the fit. So if that`s one of their missions, to drive traffic to the store, mission accomplished." Back to top

Reinforcing the brand

At J. Crew Group Inc. the web is all about selling and reinforcing the brand. A shopper who walks into any of J. Crew`s 189 stores is greeted with signature pieces such as the J. Crew legacy blazer and the New York-based retailer`s well known broken-in chinos.

Since its web site was launched in 1996, J. Crew has worked to give shoppers the same experience online. In the past year, has been updated with new features and more segmented shopping areas. The web site, which receives more than 71 million visits each year, has new categories such as "Crew Cuts," which feature clothes and accessories for children ages 2 through 10. All major product categories also now have bigger graphics and enhanced zoom-in tools.

To promote multi-channel retailing, J. Crew updated with a personal shopper program. Shoppers can use to schedule an appointment with a personal shopper at a convenient store or work with the personal shopper to locate the right merchandise online or in the catalog. "If a shopper comes into our stores, she expects to find what our brand stands for: quality apparel that`s contemporary," says J. Crew senior vice president of direct merchandising Trish Donnelly. "By adding more rich media, content and merchandising categories, we are extending the same branding experience to the web."

J. Crew is a big believer in database marketing to drive direct sales. The retailer maintains almost 23 million names of customers who receive catalogs and opt-in e-mail on upcoming promotions. Better online branding in conjunction with targeted direct marketing is paying off: Each year more than 2.5 million households from its customer database return to make a purchase online at or from the catalog or stores.

E-commerce analysts like the site`s sophisticated look, but find that some new features take away from shopping. "The web site certainly supports their brand, but they can make the personal shopper program more prominent and cut back on the opening videos," says Shari Altman, president of consulting firm Altman Dedicated Direct. Back to top

Social street
Ever since social networking took flight on the Internet, retailers have been searching for ways to link their marketing strategies to this trend. has found a winning formula by integrating blogs, user videos, and an ambassador program that empowers customers to spread the word about Karmaloop.

The linchpin of the strategy is streetwear, which Karmaloop made its primary inventory about a year ago. An outgrowth of youth culture, streetwear defines a lifestyle of music, dance, street sports, innovation, needs and desires that is reflected in social networking sites such as

"Streetwear is about a lifestyle as well as fashion and that prompted us to look beyond retail strategies and create a destination site where customers can shop, but also blog, learn about the latest art, music, concerts, films, events, gadgets and read and see interviews with pop cultural icons and fashion designers," says Giovannah Chiu, lifestyle marketing director for Boston-based Karmaloop LLC. "It all ties into the products we sell and is a way to streamline and speed the spread of information about Karmaloop."

As part of its social networking marketing strategy Karmaloop created a Karmaloop Rep program which enables customers to earn discounts on future purchases by promoting Karamaloop on social networking sites, such as TagWorld, Hi5 and Bebo, or personal blogs. Karmaloop reps include links on these sites to items in the Karmaloop catalog they like or personally wear. The program, which is populated with about 10,000 representatives, generates about 15% of web sales.

"The rep program is an excellent community centric marketing plan that encourages rapid fans of the store to spread the word about Karmaloop in exchange for points toward free merchandise," says Maris Daugherty, Chicago-based senior consultant for J.C. Williams Group. "Plus they make it easy by supplying tools like a personalized widget, banners, and flyers for use on My Space, Facebook and other heavily trafficked social networking sites. It is a strategy that capitalizes on the power of the empowered consumer."

It also brings the power of social networking to e-retailing. Back to top

Meeting its market
Two years ago when Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based Kohl`s Corp. cast about for a new sales strategy that would gain traction with its core shoppers—women 25 to 34—it decided e-commerce could no longer take a backseat to stores. Today the retailer has transformed into a state-of-the-art e-commerce site with more merchandise, improved graphics, and advanced shopping features and functions.

Having made a serious investment in better web technology and doubled the size of its Internet fulfillment center, Kohl`s now views e-commerce in a more serious light. Web sales could reach $300 million in 2007, an increase of 76% over $170 million in 2006, Kohl`s CEO Larry Montgomery recently told Wall Street analysts.

The new debuted in March with enhanced shopping applications from Allurent Inc. and features a cleaner layout and bigger graphics. Kohl`s also enhanced site search, which enables customers to search by size, color, brand and price, and added more rich media, including zoom.

"We saw what other chain retailers were doing with the Internet," says Kohl`s senior vice president of e-commerce Mike Molitor. "We decided we were going to become more competitive."

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