burberry brit polo Columbia Sportswear launches online shopping

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With more people researching products online, says senior e commerce director Paul Zaengle, “the company felt like the time was right.”

Columbia Sportswear’s latest branding campaign promotes the “Greater Outdoors,” but the Oregon company is inviting customers to browse from the comfort of the greater indoors.

Online shopping debuted this week as part of a revamped Web site, helping bring Columbia up to speed with most of its competitors in the outdoor industry. Executives view e commerce as part of their push to reach consumers directly, rather than rely on other retailers to sell their jackets, athletic clothing and shoes.

Columbia didn’t set a specific goal for online sales, but the company will track progress as customers begin to use the new site, says Paul Zaengle, senior director for e commerce. And revenue isn’t the only measure of success.

“It’s as much of a brand strategy as it is a sales strategy,” Zaengle says. “This is the one central place, globally, that people can go to learn about the greater outdoors.”

The launch was two years in the making one year to research and plan, another to photograph Columbia products, design the site and build it. If they want to try something on in person, they can find the closest stores. And they can post product reviews and go behind the scenes with “Inside Out,” a blog written by employees of the Washington County company.

As part of the makeover,
burberry brit polo Columbia Sportswear launches online shopping
Web work shifted from Columbia’s marketing department to an e commerce team of about a dozen, including veterans of other companies. Zaengle moved from Polo Ralph Lauren to start the new group, which will develop e commerce sites for Columbia subsidiaries, too.

Columbia executives promoted the site last month, when they announced their latest financial results: a net loss and declining sales for the second quarter. An online presence will help bolster direct to consumer sales, they said, along with an expanding fleet of Columbia stores and outlets 48 in the United States, by the end of this year.

During a conference call with industry analysts, the Columbia team declined to say what proportion of sales comes directly from consumers.

Columbia’s figure is probably lower than the typical 15 percent, says Matt Powell of SportScanInfo. In his view, the business has good reason to focus on its own Web site and stores. That’s where companies make the biggest profit margins and most effectively hook shoppers on their brands.

The new Columbia site looks attractive and user friendly, Powell says. Still, the company is playing catch up in an industry where online sales have become the norm.

“It will take some time for this to really get traction,” says Powell, who does most of his own shopping online. “The big guys have been on the Web almost 10 years now, and have really spent that time developing relationships with customers, building their brands,
burberry brit polo Columbia Sportswear launches online shopping
learning how to make the Web an effective tool.”.