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Lands' End seeks an online fit

The retailer wants consumers to buy tailored pants via the Net, taking a shot at tapping into a service long the realm of specialists.

BOSTON--Lands' End is sizing up its customers' desire for online custom-fitting.

The apparel retailer recently launched a project that allows consumers to order via the Internet pants made to their measurements. And the company is giving the online tailoring effort a big push through its offline properties. The August edition of the company's catalog devotes the front and back covers to the online feature, which also gets a multipage inside spread.

"Increasingly, customers will want and demand customization from retailers," Sam Taylor, vice president of e-commerce and international for Lands' End, said at the eTail 2002 conference here Wednesday. "And the Internet is the most effective channel for personalization."

But custom fitting of apparel has long been the realm of specialists, not mass-market companies, and the arrival of the Internet has yet to alter that situation. Interactive Custom Clothes is an online effort that offers a design-your-own-jean feature, allowing a full range of personal measurements, while Nike lets consumers create their own sneaker designs.

To get custom-made pants through the Lands' End Web site, consumers fill out a form with their measurements and answer some questions about their body type. The time-consuming nature of the project, as well as the personal nature of some of the questions, make it a natural for the Internet, Taylor said.

"On the phone, the talk time would be very long, and it's just cost-prohibitive," Taylor said.

Lands' End says it has had success with its other personalization programs. Customers who use its Virtual Model software have a 7 percent higher order value than others, and a 34 percent higher conversion rate--that is, the number of browsers who become buyers. And customers who use a Personal Shopper feature, which uses decision engines to help recommend clothing, have an 80 percent higher conversion rate and 10 percent higher order value.

The company launched a custom chino offering last fall and set up a similar project for women's jeans in the spring. Later this year, it plans to branch out into men's custom shirts and twills, and into women's plus-size pants and chinos.

Taylor wouldn't give specific numbers on the program's success, but said that orders were "significantly higher" than the 10 percent to 15 percent rate that Lands' End had been expecting. And return rates were lower than the standard--once the company went back and tweaked the question-and-answer process.

"The real value is in customer retention," he said. "Once they order the second pair, it's almost an annuity. They're not ordering size 6 or size 8--they're ordering size Sam or size Amy."