JCPenney.com wants to be more than just an e-commerce site. It also strives to be a tailor, a jewelry designer and an interior decorator.
The mass merchant's Web site introduced a section in the spring called Build-a-Ring, where customers can custom design an engagement ring. Then in June, it launched a custom-fitted apparel option. If the company is pleased with the strategy, visitors also might be able to create their own window dressings in the future.
“We are exploring [customization] as a solution for our customers,” said Richard Last, vice president of merchandising for JCPenney.com.
Custom apparel is a natural extension of the site's size selections, which include petite, plus, tall and junior plus in the women's category, he said. Letting customers customize engagement rings online also makes sense for JCPenney.com.
“There is a younger customer on the Internet who is getting married and starting a family,” Last explained.
Last hopes to increase customer loyalty by offering customization options, and the company expects a high retention rate. In apparel, “we suspect that once you get the formula right, it'll be really easy to reorder or to modify a style,” he said.
JCPenney.com will promote the custom apparel option this fall through e-mail alerts and inside its catalogs.
Apparel initially available for customization includes a St. John's Bay woman's cotton twill pant, a man's cotton twill pant and a man's cotton dress shirt. The cost of a woman's custom pant is $44 versus $30 for an off-the-rack style.
Customers placing orders choose from several colors and styles, including pleats and cuffed legs. They must provide information about their measurements and body type. Orders are delivered in about four weeks and can be returned if they don't fit correctly.
If the program is a success, the company will consider extending the option to other apparel and to product categories such as custom window dressings.
The company also may offer a limited number of custom-fitted items in its stores, Last said.
Along with retention rates, the company will watch the percentage of online apparel sales resulting from the customized offerings. Lands' End, which has offered custom-fitted clothing for several years, has reported that as much as 40 percent of its online apparel sales are generated from this option. Since J.C. Penney's site sells national brands as well as house labels, Last doesn't expect custom items to account for as large a percentage of online apparel sales as they do for Lands' End.
Pricing is another issue Last will monitor. One question he hopes to answer: “Will our customer segment be able and willing to pay for this?”
Last also aims to learn what drives consumers to buy custom apparel.
“Is it that they're hard to fit, or is it the idea of creating your own style?” he said.