Surfing Silicon Valley
America browses with browsers
By San Francisco Bureau Chief Greg LefevreNovember 27, 1998
Web posted at: 9:51 p.m. EST (0251 GMT)
On this busiest shopping weekend of the season, lots of folks will simply point and pick.
Ken Lawler of IBM's Art Cafe in Atlanta says, "A lot of the major retailers have come to the Web in a big way ... Macy's and Penneys and all the other household names that people already have a relationship with."
That may be why a Harris survey reported that 43 percent of computer users plan to buy online this holiday season. That's three times the number of just a year ago.
Gifs of gifts
Macys.com launched its holiday site this year with a quarter of a million. Do you know how long it would take to download all those gifs?
At IBM's Art Cafe, digital artists place the dresses, coats and hats on the virtual shelves. They then must check the virtual inventory to make sure it matches the actual inventory across the country.
At Macy's fulfillment center in Sacramento, California, Lennie Gladue makes sure the right stuff gets in the right box. And quickly.
"We pick the merchandise from the shelves. They are then brought straight to line feed; boxes are prepared for shipment; the merchandise is wrapped for shipment. We ship it out through UPS, and we get the orders out within 24 hours," said Gladue.
He has to. One of the major attractions of Web shopping is speed.
Over at Levi.com the company that invented blue jeans brings tradition as old as the West to the latest in cyberspace.
"We have over a hundred different products online. It's going to appeal to a wide range of audiences, both the younger consumer as well as the older consumer who's used us for years," said Levi's Director of Digital Marketing Jay Thomas.
He says Web surfers looking for Levi's or khakis can literally pick their speed in the virtual Levi's Store.
"You can go from the very front page to making a product purchase within three clicks," he says.
"Or they can browse through," says Levi's Kevin McSpadden. "And there's also a changing room so they can shop for different tops and khakis."
This is cool. For the style-impaired Web surfer, the Web site will make mix-and-match suggestions based on what you pick. Tan khakis. How about a pale check shirt? Need a good belt, hat, cap? Pick up an armload of cool duds with a flick of the wrist.
McSpadden says the site has become Levi's closest connection ever with its customers.
"The computer is one of the most intimate ways to dialog with the consumers," he says. "They're there sitting at the computer, and Levi.com and dockers.com is a face of the brand right back to them."
He says it's the closest thing to one-on-one between the maker and the buyer yet.
Is your size my size?
The women's clothing business has as many sizes as California has cults. A lady's size 8 in one store is a six down the street. How do you know online?
Levi's installed a virtual fitting room called the Fit Calculator.
"Simply put in your measurements and your height, and it maps back to our size scale and makes the best recommendation for Dockers khakis and Dockers tops," says Levi's McSpadden.
Your measurements stay private
McSpadden says Levi.com does no exact tracking of the customer's visit.
Experts tell us that shoppers who think every click is being watched won't browse as freely, and may be reluctant to return.
Levi's says it only stores information "in the aggregate."
With hundreds of thousands of visitors to the site, it's interested more in where the customers are going, what they're buying, and most importantly, what ELSE Levi's can sell them.
Virtual shopping assistance
For the significantly gift-idea-impaired, Macys.com will guide you with a shopping assistant.
Macys.com President Kent Anderson calls it the Gift Wizard.
"Basically give us the attributes of the person you're looking for the gift for, and we'll come back and suggest items out of our assortment as possible gift items."
Even the person who has everything could use a little additional something.
Nearly 3,000 companies show up on Yahoo's shopping site. You can shop till your mouse drops.
"Most people come in with a general category. 'I am looking to buy my dad golf clubs. I am looking to buy my kids Hot Wheels.'" says Jeff Mallett the Chief Operating Officer at Yahoo.
The No. 1 toy: Furby's -- that little beaked speaking wonder that looks a lot like the gremlins that terrorized movie victims years ago.
Most stores are sold out? No problem. Mallett says go to the auction page and buy from someone who beat you to the toy counter.
"What has happened is there's a very rich number of close to a thousand Furby's coming up on Yahoo in the auction section. So now we have the ability to guide folks. If they couldn't find it in the retail outlet, they can find it in the auction environment."
But have you seen the prices? Here's a new wrinkle: the Charity Furby.
The manufacturer of Furby's has donated 1,000 of them to the Yahoo Children's Auction. Folks bid each day. The winners in each cycle keep the Furby, and the money -- the entire bid -- goes to four children's charities for Christmas.
A really cool and meaningful way to surf.
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