Sunday, November 21, 1999

Convenience, enticement are retailers' goals

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The hottest feature at online stores these days is not a product — it is convenience.

        According to Patrick Gates, vice president of e-commerce at America Online, the same feature that draws shoppers to the Internet also sends some away. So AOL is developing shop-easy programs, from virtual product demonstrations to putting several private labels on one screen.

        “We found in our research the biggest thing is convenience. Not having your credit card available. Not remembering your password. Not being able to find what you're looking for,” Mr. Gates said.

        “All they want to know is how do I find something, how do I purchase something?”

        AOL is the world's largest online service with more than 18 million subscribers. It has designed three new or soon-to-arrive programs to make online shopping as easy as it looks on TV commercials. All can be or will be found on its home page or in shop@AOL.comThey are:

        • Chic Simple: This brings to life those teen fantasies about buying whatever you see in a fashion magazine. Chic Simple combines magazine editorial — advice, must-haves, entertainment — with available apparel. Click on the shoes and link to the shoe page to buy them.

        Also, product brands are mixed — expect to see an Eddie Bauer shirt on Gap pants and under a J. Crew jacket. Chic Simple is accessed by typing “chic simple” in AOL's keyword option on the home page.

        • Topical-theme catalogs: AOL, with its 300 or so partners, is building groups of products into specialized catalogs that involve a theme or holiday. To wit: Halloween, the Ryder's Cup or Bastille Day. Such catalogs cross-reference scores of labels and brands into one site.

        • Product simulator: Imagine a 3-D photo of the camera you want to buy. Now imagine being able to turn the camera on and manipulate it with your mouse. The feature won't be up until Dec. 1, but still in time for Christmas. The simulations should be available for most hard goods, such as cell phones or cameras, in AOL's consumer electronics feature under

        What it boils down to, Mr. Gates said, is that shoppers are enticed online much as they are in a store or catalog. People like ideas, they like ease, and they like great product photographs.

        Programable models, such as those on,help bridge shopper concerns about buying clothes online, but the site has to first engage the browser. It has to get her far enough to pick out a blouse.

        “What we're really trying to do is get it in front of the consumers,” Mr. Gates said.


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