- The Washington Times - Monday, December 4, 2000

Black Friday has passed and the holiday shopping season has officially begun. On-line buying was up by more than 27 percent the day after Thanksgiving with apparel sites enjoying the greatest surge at 67 percent, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.

With competition heating up on the Web, several major on-line stores are adding something new to the cold confines of cyberspace: convenience.

Two companies leading the pack are Nike (www.nike.com) and Lands' End (www.landsend.com). These "brick and click retailers" have enhanced their electronic presence with products and services for the busy shopper.

Thanks to Nike ID, an Internet-based customer design and ordering system, fans of the popular shoes can put their own mark on their footwear.

Visitors click into the Nike ID area and begin a simple customization process by choosing a product. Shoes can be ordered in either youth or adult sizes, with kids' shoes available in the Air Brush ID style.

The Air Brush IDs can be customized with a choice of four shoe patterns, colors and 15 symbol IDs.

Adult shoes can be ordered in cross training, basketball, football and baseball styles with each shoe offering its own unique options.

Shoppers can choose shoe, trim and midsole colors to match almost anything, from the wedding or alma mater colors to the shades on their favorite lucky T-shirt. Some models also offer unique shoe patterns like the cool black-and-white or red-and-black checkerboard design available on the Air Presto.

The final mark of individuality is the personalized ID, up to eight characters long, embossed on the heel of the shoes. Products are shipped along with a Nike ID T-shirt.

Prices vary ($65 and up) depending on shoe category and style.

Another retailer, Lands' End has added a "My Personal Shopper" feature to its Web site. Visitors communicate preferences through an interactive process indicating style, color and fabric choices.

Once the profile is completed, the store's "recommendation engine" filters through more than 80,000 apparel options, matching items that best fit preferences.

Another interesting option available, "My Virtual Model," offers a body-double that visitors create based on their height, weight and measurements. This allows the shopper to see how something will look on without ever leaving the desk top.

Other personalized options include "Shop With A Friend," a unique service that leverages the power of the Internet by letting two shoppers meet and talk in cyberspace. This involves a live clerk available either via phone or e-mail. He can help coordinate outfits, find correct sizes, provide details and help make final gift selections.

Priced to move

Not all on-line retailers made it to Black Friday. Companies shutting their virtual doors can leave warehouses filled with inventory. OverStock.com (www.overstock.com) has made a business of purchasing those liquidated items, offering name brands from toys to diamond earrings at an average of 57 percent off retail prices with free shipping.

"We are the bacteria in the gut of a catfish at the bottom of the food chain," said Patrick Byrne, CEO of OverStock.com. "Unlike other retail sites which have hype and appearance but no real business model, as liquidating specialists, we are in this to make a profit.

"The Internet has allowed us to cut through multiple distribution layers to offer the best prices," he said.

The site has recently purchased inventory from former sporting goods retailer Gear.com, toyTime.com and two jewelry sites, Miadora.com and Jewelry.com. In addition, they have added $6.5 million of retail product from Adornis.com, BabyStripes.com and eHats.com to their 300,000-square-foot warehouse in Salt Lake City.

• Have an interesting site? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at the Business Browser, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail to joseph@twtmail.com.

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