Eddie Bauer Tests Children's Line on Internet

Eddie Bauer Inc. on Oct. 15 will test a full children's apparel line only on the Internet — a first for the 80-year-old retailer.

Targeting parents and gift-giving grandparents who fit Eddie Bauer's customer demographic — college educated, between 25 and 55 years old with an annual income of more than $70,000 — the line will reside at www.eddiebauerkids.com. It also will link to the online flagship store at www.eddiebauer.com.

The test will run for five weeks, after which Eddie Bauer will add the children’s line to its catalog and stores or will restrict it to the Web if sales don't warrant an expansion. If the line flops completely during the test period, Eddie Bauer will cancel or retool the initiative.

“The goal is to have a successful online test, get a good read for the appeal of the product, and be able to make a good business decision about whether to expand the product into our other channels,” said Mark Nassutti, chief marketing officer at eddiebauer.com, Redmond, WA.

The new offering will add to the children’s outerwear line of jackets, backpacks and footwear introduced last holiday season in the catalog and on eddiebauer.com. The new children’s line will include T-shirts, pants, shorts and pullovers for boys, and a similar assortment, including skirts and dresses, for girls.

“It's very high-tech in appearance and it's very cool,” said Jane Loeb, spokeswoman at eddiebauer.com. “It's not mini-Eddie Bauer. It's not children in flannel shirts.”

Using the Internet as a barometer for new products is gaining ground among retailers. Gap Inc. in May introduced its GapMaternity line for online-only sales and later next week will launch a new fragrance on the Web before a store rollout next month. Watch retailer Fossil Inc. expanded into casual apparel in July, its Web site leading over stores.

Eddie Bauer will use a combination of print and banner ads, and references in its stores and catalogs. Through a tie-in with mall-based toy seller KB Toys, it also has a magazine, in-store signage and a promotional tie-in with KBkids.com for November. Lowe Lintas & Partners, San Francisco, is Eddie Bauer's ad agency of record.

The children’s wear debut follows the introduction of eb360.com, Eddie Bauer's online lifestyle magazine, and the July relaunch of eddiebauerhome.com, a bed-to-bath products site. Other Eddie Bauer sites include the flagship eddiebauer.com, eddiebaueroutlet.com and eddiebauerb2b.com.

Owned by Spiegel Inc., Downers Grove, IL, Eddie Bauer's same-store sales for bricks-and-mortar stores were down 20 percent in August vs. a 12 percent increase for the same period last year. But overall, Spiegel group e-commerce sales were up 201 percent and catalog revenue was higher by 8 percent last month.

To boost performance, Eddie Bauer will now tweak its product offerings. A return to classic Eddie Bauer products, particularly in the casual dress lines, is expected to prepare the retailer through the holidays.

Jeff Klinefelter, vice president and senior research analyst at U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray, Minneapolis, said Eddie Bauer's e-commerce strategy was right on the money. People don't realize that apparel has become one of the top-four categories sold on the Internet, he said.

“I think it makes complete sense, because this way you don't risk damaging or diluting the brand because you have a captive, somewhat isolated audience online,” Klinefelter said. “You're not filling your stores with product.

“It's very expensive to roll out products across 500 stores, in terms of labor, inventory carrying costs and potential markdown liabilities. And if it doesn't work, you have a whole section of children's apparel marked down that's at the store and doesn't look good for the brand. People will wonder, 'Why didn't it work? Is this a good brand?' “

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