November 21, 2008, 12:00 AM

Apparel & Accessories

(Page 4 of 9)

Chicago retail consultant Keven Wilder admires the site’s clever use of social media, with a blog that ties tightly to featured products, and pages on Facebook and MySpace.

“The Cusparazzi feature, with photos of store happenings, adds to the hipness of the site,” she says. She also likes the ability to search by trend, the zoom feature that lets customers zero in on details, and the availability of both classic and modern size guides. Back to top

Power to the people
Design By Humans takes the term online community to a new level. Its entire business depends on it.

The retailer, which launched in August 2007, is the brainchild of brothers Matt and Jason Gutierrez, two art enthusiasts with apparel backgrounds. The duo was looking for a way to share the talent and creativity they saw in the California art scene with the rest of the world-and make a little money as well.

The result?, an online T-shirt shop that relies entirely on its visitors to determine the products it sells.

“Think of it as American Idol for T-shirts,” says Jason Gutierrez, chief operating officer. “We are an ongoing design contest, store and community all rolled into one.”

Each day, visitors cast ballots for their favorite designs from a selection of shirts submitted by artists from around the world. Daily winning designers receive $750, and Design By Humans retains the rights to manufacture and sell their creations.

The pot sweetens as daily winners are entered in a weekly contest, which awards $1,000; weekly winners are in the running for a monthly prize of $1,750.

“It’s a contest, it’s a business and it’s a social networking site,” says Mara Devitt, a partner at retail consultancy McMillan Doolittle LLP. “The consumer can have several levels of involvement-from viewing the designs, to providing feedback to the artists, to voting on a design and ultimately voting with their pocketbook by purchasing a shirt.”

Design By Humans’ crowd-sourcing model saves the company money. There’s no need to hire buyers to search for hot looks that may or may not sell, or to employ designers to conjure up fresh styles. And the contests serve as a form of free marketing for the T-shirts.

Design By Humans receives 100 to 200 T-shirt submissions daily, Gutierrez says. So far, about 3,000 artists have submitted designs, and 70,000 consumers have cast votes. On average, about 200 individuals vote on each shirt, Gutierrez says, with about 80 posting comments.

Not too shabby for a retailer that has yet to celebrate its second anniversary. Back to top

Message received
A year ago an outdated and cumbersome e-commerce platform had Eddie Bauer Holdings Inc. walking a precipice of web-related performance problems. Web shoppers didn’t like the site’s navigation or the limited product display.

But now, after 18 months of study and following up on hundreds of customer interviews and usability test sessions, Eddie Bauer is scaling new heights online with a completely updated web site and e-commerce infrastructure from Fry Inc.

The new features 25% bigger graphics, top-of-the-page navigation and mouse-over technology. The product pages, which are generated by a new content management system, also feature multiple images of a product, zoom, the ability to change colors, and recommended products.

“A big goal of the redesign was getting customers deeper into the product pages quicker, but also giving them a broader shopping experience,” says Eddie Bauer vice president of marketing David Makuen. “We acted on what customers told us were the most important issues.”

As an enhancement to its shopping cart and as one more chance to cross-sell, the new web site has an interim checkout page that displays the merchandise the customer is about to purchase and provides additional options to once more select a range of accessories, see product availability, zoom in on the product, read current promotions and store the information in that shopping cart for up to 60 days.

“We still have some plumbing work to do, but the new site is meeting customers’ expectations,” says Makuen. One sign of that is that Eddie Bauer’s online shoppers are sticking around longer. The average visitor session on has increased to 11 minutes and 11 seconds from 9 minutes and 13 seconds a year earlier, says web measurement firm Hitwise.

Retail web site analysts also like the site’s improved navigation. “The product rollovers show proactive thought on what views and options the user would like to see on an item-by-item basis,” says Dan Kurani, CEO of retail web site design firm Kurani Interactive. Back to top

Bringing brands together
Gap Inc. is one major retailer that’s always seen online sales as an opportunity rather than a threat, and that attitude shows in its four innovative e-commerce sites: Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic, and the online-only shoe and handbag emporium Piperlime. The recent acquisition of Athleta, a women’s athletic apparel store, will only increase the aggregated power of Gap Inc. Direct.

Earlier this year, Gap revamped its platform in a way that any retailer would envy-especially one with multiple strong brands. The governing principle for all the sites is “universality,” including one unified shopping cart across all sites, and plenty of cross-selling. For example, sweater shoppers at Gap are subtly offered sweater options at Banana Republic and Old Navy, and appropriate shoe and handbag promotions from Piperlime appear across the other sites.

Recently, the company adopted unified warehouses as well, so orders from Banana Republic and Gap not only come out of the same shopping cart but arrive in the same box for one low shipping fee.

“Brands don’t usually like to live with other brands,” said Gap Direct CEO Toby Lenk in an October analyst call. “But the customers all love the idea. They were asking us to do this. The best brand strategy is to do what customers love, and they love universality.”

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