- The Washington Times - Monday, September 12, 2005

Whether you’re a hard-core veteran of shopping for apparel on the Internet or a traditionalist who refuses to purchase clothing sight unseen, the Internet can be a valuable tool for helping quickly find the clothes you need. Five years ago, buying apparel from your living room was a risky proposition, but improving technology and an increased focus on Internet selling from retailers have vastly improved the experience of shopping from your desk. Following are just a few of the “tricks” that retailers are employing to make your Internet shopping experience more successful:

*Many apparel retailers have adopted online technologies that allow visitors to virtually “try on” clothes on the Internet. Using virtual models, customers can create on-screen likenesses of themselves, including body measurements, hair color, etc., and then “try on” the featured brands to see how they will look on their body. Improvements in this technology increasingly allow for viewers to see how fabrics will drape, where they will be too tight, etc. Even if your ultimate decision will be made in a real dressing room in a brick-and-mortar location, this online exercise can eliminate a lot of possibilities before you make your way to the mall.

*Another Web site feature is cross-selling. Make no mistake, this is a big selling tool for the retailer, but it provides a valuable service to the consumer. It’s almost as if you have your own personal sales associate to guide you to items that you might like. Sites that offer “cross-selling” simply show you items that have been pre-determined to nicely complement other items that you have already selected from the store, such as the perfect blouse to go with the suit in your online shopping cart.

*Somewhat similar to cross-selling, targeting marketing and loyalty programs inform customers of sales and offer coupons and other special deals based on historical data of past purchases or based on records of your clickstream — the paths you have taken through their site previously. While there is a somewhat creepy “Big Brother” aspect to modern shopping, the advanced logarithms of current retail software systems allow companies to analyze individual (as well as store, regional, demographic, etc.) preferences like never before. These programs allow retailers to cater Web pages to your personal dislikes, or to offer coupons based on the fact that you always buy a particular brand, for example. Allowing a retailer to “get to know you” can be liberating. It eliminates the need to trudge through merchandise that doesn’t suit your tastes.

*Perhaps most importantly from a consumer perspective, apparel retailers have made significant improvements to the informational and visual content of their sites. More than ever, retailers are featuring large portions of their assortments online, and offering zoom-in features that allow consumers to view fine details of the apparel, such as the stitching and buttons. Informational content describes items in detail, and is increasingly consistent with the presentation of the same apparel offerings in the stores, creating a seamless and consistent shopping experience for the consumer, wherever she decides to make that final purchase.

And, for those of you who must “shop til you drop” and prefer driving to the mall or drinking champagne in the fitting room of your favorite boutique — Internet window Shopping has its privileges so let it be your window into the fashion world. Enjoy!

Dear Jordan:

It’s been said that real estate people should drive expensive cars because it shows they are making lots of money on sales commissions. But those fees are set by the state. As a consultant, should I dress in expensive, designer clothes with my clients to show I am successful or will it send the impression they are paying me too much?

Alexis - Falls Church

Dear Alexis:

If only we could read our clients’ minds…Take a middle-of-the-road approach. Dress well, and tastefully, without being flashy or pompous.

Hello Jordan:

Every year, we take the big boss out for dinner on his birthday and give him gifts. We play it safe by giving electronics, CDs, books or car accessories. If we gave him a tie or sweater, would it suggest he needs help with his wardrobe?

Jerry - Sterling

Dear Jerry:

Giving someone an article of clothing as a gift no more suggests a fashion crisis that needs an infusion than giving a bottle of wine suggests a boring personality that needs livening up. The only dilemma involves selecting an item that suits your boss’ sartorial tastes, which shouldn’t be difficult if you see him everyday. Go for it!

Ms. Jordan Speer is the senior editor of an apparel business magazine and has been writing about the industry for more than nine years. Send workplace or corporate fashion questions to [email protected]

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