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Posted Date: 10/1/2003

Online Marketing Key Focus at eTail 2003

By  Kathleen DesMarteau

Consumers are "channel agnostic," and driving down traffic to your e-tail site can be a good thing. So said some of the leaders of e-tailing, or online direct-to-consumer sales, speaking at the eTail 2003 conference this past August in Boston, MA.

It was Don Hughes, senior vice president and CFO of Lands' End Inc., who offered the comment about consumers' agnostic tendencies when it comes to apparel shopping. In the same breath, Hughes pointed to the cost effectiveness of selling online, noting that Lands' End is selling $435 million annually online, with double-digit net income for Internet sales. Landsend.com is more profitable than the Lands' End catalog channel, Hughes stated.

Hughes and other apparel executives speaking at the event, which attracted approximately 650, said customization of product and personalization of service are important in an electronic selling environment. Hughes said offering custom apparel sizes through lands-end.com has been positive from both marketing and customer service standpoints. Likewise, Patrick O'Neill, general manager for Nike.com, said the firm's NikeID customized footwear offering has been "extremely successful," and that Nike is considering expansion of customized product in apparel, watches and bags. For its part, Gap is offering custom monogramming on the back pockets of jeans ordered via gap.com, and considering custom sizing, said Cornell Williams, vice president, direct, and chief technology officer for Gap Inc.

A major concern for e-tailers is converting Web site visitors into buyers. While e-mail marketing (such as e-mail blasts of an advertising message) remains a key vehicle for driving traffic to their sites, more e-tailers are investing in other electronic marketing techniques, such as the practice of buying and bidding for "key words" through the major Internet search engines.

There are two primary key word marketing techniques. In one case, an apparel firm may pay a search engine to list a link to its Web site prominently whenever Web users type a certain word, such as "khakis," into the search engine. Apparel firms may have to bid against competitors for optimal positioning. In another case, apparel firms may pay search engines to have their Web sites' content fed into the engines' product databases, which greatly increases the possibility that consumers will be channeled to the apparel firm based on key word searches. The apparel brand or retailer then typically would pay a price per visitor who comes to its e-tail site through the search engine.

Key word marketing methods can be a more targeted way of attracting buyers than e-mail blasting. In some cases, it may not reel in as many visitors, but may lead to visitors who are more inclined to buy (the "less can be more" strategy). Nike.com, for instance, has driven down site traffic while driving up conversion rates 67 percent, O'Neill said.

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