Retailers poised to launch major e-commerce upgrades

Clothing retailers are launching major e-commerce initiatives this quarter, taking advantage of improved consumer spending and more comfort among consumers with online shopping.

Gant, an international fashion brand that already operates e-commerce portals in the UK and Sweden, is building an expanded worldwide online shopping platform  beginning with a US launch in the first quarter of 2011. The retailer worked with independent digital shop Code and Theory on the launch. 

Ari Hoffman, US president and CEO at Gant, said the portal will enable his brand “to reach the consumers that have been calling us, saying, ‘Gant is not available in my town,’ or ‘there’s a limited selection.’”

Hoffman added that consumers are shedding the hesitations that once were common about online shopping. 

“All the prejudices that existed before – privacy and other concerns – are gone,” he said. 

Familiarity with retailing technology might help retailers, but the economy is also playing a role in driving more fashion brands to sell their clothing online, said Greg Girard, program director of merchandise strategies at IDC Retail Insights, a market research firm. 

“Over the past two years, retailers have put off a lot of their IT projects. With economic optimism returning, they’re able to invest more,” he said, adding that many retailers have been using first- or second-generation e-commerce platforms that lack new capabilities. “Being able to push a wish list out to Facebook and to link to what a consumer does on the Web with his or her mobile device” are important functions of newer e-commerce platforms, as well as integration with loyalty programs, product ratings and review functions, Girard said. 

A spate of other fashion brands are planning major e-commerce upgrades and relaunches early this year. Adidas-owned footwear brand Rockport will relaunch its e-commerce site this month with enhanced customer profiles and ratings and reviews. Sports apparel brand Lululemon Athletica will launch a major e-commerce upgrade in Q1 2011 and will hire an executive to run its online shopping operations. Women’s clothing retailer Ann Taylor will also launch an e-commerce platform early this year. 

Retailers are also improving the scale of their e-commerce offerings, in an effort to provide the real-time visibility of store-level inventory to the consumer. To that end, Macy’s will break ground on a 1.3 million-square-foot fulfillment center in West Virginia, a reflection of the 29% increase the company saw in online purchases in the first 10 months of 2010. That jump in e-commerce activity occurred on top of the 20% increase it saw the year before, said Jim Sluzewski, SVP of corporate communications and external affairs at Macy’s. 

“Our online sales have been rising rapidly for several years, and we’re putting in place additional infrastructure to support growth,” said Sluzewski. “We have strategies to drive the store customers to the Web, and Web customers to the store.”

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