November 21, 2008, 12:00 AM

Apparel & Accessories

The apparel & accessories e-commerce sites are as distinctive as, well, individual clothing buyers. And that’s a big part of what makes them successful.

Apparel &

The e-commerce sites featured in the apparel & accessories category of this year’s Hot 100 are as distinctive as, well, individual clothing buyers. And that’s a big part of what makes them successful.

These are certainly not cookie-cutter sites. Put the retail sites of Anthropologie and Wet Seal up next to one another and the difference is night and day. The first sells with sophistication-employing luxurious images, a muted background conveying a dreamy feel and advanced technology such as a downloadable widget that spotlights the featured product of the day. The second sells with fun and social features, offering a fashion runway where shoppers can create, rate, share and comment on outfits and funky, hip copy. Trying the test again with and, or and, will produce similar results. Each site is completely different.

So what’s the common thread that makes all these retailers Hot 100-worthy? Each retailer knows its audience and speaks directly to it. Anthropologie consumers are more mature fashion fans, while Wet Seal’s shoppers are teens who love to chat about the newest fads. Different consumers require different marketing approaches, and these retailers understand that.

Take Its fans are female surfers who love to ride a great wave and lead an active lifestyle. Roxy wanted to offer these shoppers something that would resonate with them that was not easily found elsewhere. The answer: Videos of young women surfing. The retailer not only added the fast-paced videos to its site, but also to, where they attracted considerable attention.

American Apparel, another retailer that appeals to the younger consumer, takes an entirely different approach to it brand. Its simple, minimalist site markets to chic, young city dwellers, and is a far cry from’s athletic, on-the-go vibe., another Hot 100 apparel & accessories site, appeals to an edgy youth culture with in-your-face shock appeal, a plethora of social media and a video microsite.

The Hot 100 apparel & accessories retailers this year know they will never be able to attract every shopper. And they don’t want to. They simply strive to serve their target market, and serve it well.

Simple is chic is designed to project the same air of sophistication and complexity that infuses American Apparel Inc.’s 143 retail locations worldwide. Based in Los Angeles, the company has built a reputation for being in touch with fashion-conscious U.S. youth, and has parlayed that reputation into impressive overseas growth.

The site design is intentionally simple. A central display shows scrolling photographic images-some more risqué than others-all containing striking models showing off a wide selection of products.

“This is an ‘in-your-face’ site with a hip, counter-culture feel,” says Mark Lee, principal at consulting company The Mark Lee Group LLC. “It’s almost like you’ll somehow be cooler just for visiting the site.”

The photos project the clothing manufacturer’s style: sophisticated but simple. “Simplicity has always been a tenet of our brand,” says web director Raz Schionning. “We try to avoid the gimmicks you’ll find on other sites. They’re flashy at first, but the level of effort they require is unsustainable.”

Wary of overwhelming customers, American Apparel chose not to pack its site with new features, opting instead to focus on customer service. Understanding that while photos help, buying clothes online is not the same as trying something on at a store, the site tries to ease the minds of customers by making the process of returns and exchanges as painless as possible. Replacement shipping is free and customers can exchange products for any reason within 45 days of a purchase.

Another important facet of is customer participation. “Along with the shopping,” Lee says, “there’s plenty of involvement: a blog, a link to a radio station, a Halloween costume contest, submitted photos, political messages.”

The recent Halloween costume contest, in its second year, attracted double the number of photo submissions as last year. Schionning says it led to two of the best weeks the company has ever had in terms of web traffic, and to expect more events like this in the future. “Online sales can be a faceless business,” says Schionning. “It’s nice to put a face on our customer.” Back to top

Got 2 have it
American Eagle Outfitters Inc. is known as a keen observer of the youth scene and is not afraid to employ the new technologies so wholeheartedly embraced by younger consumers. One feature of the site allows a visitor to select an item and text information about it to a friend’s cell phone. Senders can choose messages such as “Do u like?” if asking a peer’s opinion or “Got 2 Have” or “Don’t 4get” if the teen is asking for the item as a gift.

The text includes a code that shoppers can show to store employees who can use it to retrieve the item. The text also includes a link to the product page so that consumers with mobile web access can go to the AE mobile site and see the item.

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