October 12, 2010, 12:17 PM

American Apparel tests an online reservation system for retail stores

The apparel retailer uses the web to drive customers to try clothes in stores.

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American Apparel Inc. is testing an online system that enables customers to locate products they’ve found on AmericanApparel.com at a local retail storefront, and also have staff at that location reserve the items. The reservation system will roll out to all stores by late November in time to catch holiday shoppers, says American Apparel web director Raz Schionning.

The system works similarly to “find in stores” functions already in use by multichannel retailers such as Best Buy Co. and Borders Group Inc. A shopper selects the color and size of the product she is interested in and enters her ZIP code to find an American Apparel location nearby that has it in stock. She can then click to place the item on hold. Schionning says the system automatically sends an alert to the selected store that instructs staff to set the merchandise aside within 30 minutes. Once the merchandise is pulled, the system sends a confirmation e-mail to the shopper telling her it is ready.

“This is another way in which we’re trying to bridge that divide in online shopping and offline shopping,” Schionning says. “Apparel is ideal for this because we are dealing with a product that has a fairly high return rate. And if this can bring you into our store, then we can introduce you to other products,” he says.

Shoppers currently can find merchandise locally with a find-in-store function that instructs them to call the store directly.

American Apparel maintains its product inventory within one self-built inventory system, which means the retailer can locate a product whether it is in a warehouse used for online fulfillment or in a retail store, Schionning says. He says the company rolled out an internal inventory locator function about six months ago that uses retail store stock as backup when the fulfillment center for online orders runs out. “When possible, rather than have the customer wait days or weeks to have new garments produced, we send the request to a retail store,” Schionning says. An automated program then walks retail store staff through the packaging process, and the retail store ships the product directly to the consumer.

American Apparel in No. 269 in Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide.

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