Jack in the Box Pops Online Store

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Jack in the Box Inc. sprung a surprise last week when it introduced an e-commerce component to its Web site.

The San Diego fast food chain has launched merchandise called Jack's Gear to support the 49-year-old brand. Targeting males 18 to 34 years old, the site at www.jackinthebox.com sells boxer shorts, T-shirts and antenna balls.

"The stuff that we're selling definitely supports the brand," said Patti Foley, media manager at Jack in the Box. "Obviously we can't sell our actual products -- burgers and fries -- but [the products] definitely help strengthen the brand and really reward the loyal Jack fan."

Much in the way McDonald's Corp. sells knickknacks on its site, Jack in the Box hopes the items sold online will help sustain the cult built around the Jack icon.

Proof of this is in the merchandise. Consumers can buy cotton Jack in the Boxers -- boxer shorts emblazoned with the Jack-head logo. The same Jack logo appears on antenna balls and T-shirts with Jack slogans pinched from the restaurant chain's commercials.

The T-shirts, for instance, feature quotes such as, "You Are So Fired," "Cockadoodle Profit" and "Jack Saved Me From a Wild Chipmunk."

"We just didn't want to put out a typical T-shirt with an image of our fictional founder, Jack," Foley said.

T-shirts are priced at $12.99 and boxers at $14.99. Antenna balls -- the only item that sells in Jack in the Box restaurants -- sell for 99 cents and $4.99.

Like many of its rivals, Jack in the Box can only do so much with e-commerce. Fast food chains such as Pizza Hut, TGI Fridays, Taco Bell, Subway, Burger King and KFC typically use the Internet for promotions, offers, games and product information to drive traffic to stores.

Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits is one of the rare fast food retailers that sell food online, albeit frozen. The Atlanta company last month started selling turkeys online at www.popeyes.com.

For Jack in the Box, the e-commerce development comes a year after the introduction on the site of Jack's World. Consumers can e-mail postcards to friends, post photos of themselves with antenna balls and download screensavers.

The online store also debuts in the midst of company plans to expand its presence nationwide. It operates more than 1,634 restaurants in 15 states and aims to maintain new store openings at 10 percent a year.

While e-commerce may not occupy center stage in Jack in the Box's plans, that does not prevent the retailer from toying with ideas that tap the Internet's potential to drive foot traffic to restaurants.

"I know that we often talk about possibly selling gift certificates online, which is something that we may look into in the future," Foley said.

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