In 1911, when Leon Leonwood Bean grew tired of wet, leaky boots, he experimented with various remedies and came up with the Maine Hunting Shoe, a boot with rubber soles and feet and leather uppers. To sell his new product, he opened a mail-order store, L.L. Bean, in 1912, targeting recreational hunters in Maine identified via a mailing list supplied by Maine's hunting license bureau. Little did Mr. Bean realize or dream that some 90 years later, his famous boots would be selling in Japan via something called the Internet. In 1995, the descendents of Mr. Bean established a web presence for the traditional retail mail order company. Similarly, Lands' End, another traditional catalogue apparel company launched its business on the web in 1995. It is the thesis of this paper that L.L. Bean and Lands' End internet sales have impacted their apparel market. An effort will be made to demonstrate this by examining the sales record, corporate image and customer relationships of both companies since commencing with a web presence.
Little information is available as to L.L. Bean's Internet sales record. Information would suggest that the company's web sales have helped to boost the overall earnings of L.L. Bean (e.g., Petit, 2003); however, no specific information was found to document exact online sales figures. In reviewing the financial record of the company as provided by Hoover's Online (2003), annual sales have increased since 1999 and are as follows:
L.L. Bean Financial Overview
Annual Sales ($ mil.)
It is important to note, however, that there is no means of determining whether increases can be attributed to online sales.
As reported by Berbee (1999), Lands' End, released annual Internet sales figures for the first time in 1999. company history, reported sales of $61 million in FY99, up from $18 million the prior year. Similarly, as reported by Odell (2002), in 2001, the company's Internet sales made up about 25% of its U.S. business ($327 million), and 21% of its global sales. In information provided by Berbee, the company credited its threefold sales growth to the successful extension of its direct merchant model to the Web while increasing its capability to attract new customers and better serve existing customers by providing several options for consumers to interact with the company. As well, according to information provide by Berbee, the company's decision to launch its website was based on the consideration that the majority of Lands' End customers owned a personal computer and were twice as likely to live in an online household than the average person. As well, it was indicated that the number of Lands' End customers who have access to the Internet had increased dramatically in the eighteen months prior to the time sales records were released.
According to Cooper (1996), when L.L. Bean launched its Web site in September 1995, the company wanted to insure it created an outdoor environment online to reflect the nature and long-standing corporate image of the company. Consequently, in addition to presenting the company's well-known merchandise online, the company included within its website the opportunity for visitors to be exposed to 1,500 state and national parks and outdoor refuges. As explained by Cooper, the intent was to provide online customers with the same sense they get when experiencing an outdoor adventure.
As described within an article in Ziff Davis Smart Business for the New Economy (2000), just like the 88-year-old catalog retailer's hiking boots and outdoor clothing, L.L. Bean's website is straightforward, durable, and doesn't offer many frills, representing its commitment to maintain the corporate image that has served the company so well for so many year. Initially, in line with its sterling customer service reputation, as explained in the Ziff Davis article, the company only displayed items on the Internet, explaining that customer's could still order by phone rather than trusting technology that might not have had all the bugs worked out at first. In 1996, the company's site began selling -- as opposed to merely displaying -- its products online. According to information in the article, in order to maintain its corporate image, L.L. Bean worked to make certain that customers would experience easy navigation on the site while having ample opportunities to communicate with the corporation to provide a sense there is an entity behind the company's website. As well, an effort is made to enable the company's webmasters and designers to maintain a flexible strategy so that content on the site reflects the feedback that customers provide in the interactive sales process.
Similarly, as reported by Cullen and Szczesny (2002), Lands' End has worked hard in recent years in creating a corporate image that was based on customized service. In 2000, in a promotional campaign to further create this image of the company, Lands' End put a high-tech body scanner on a truck and traveled around the country to offer personalized fittings. Even though customers had to stand in line and take their clothes off, as reported by Cullen and Szczesny, customers loved it. Consequently, in an effort to maintain the image that it has created for itself via its website, the company has tried to appeal to the tech-savvy young looking for something unique as well as to their parents looking for something that fits using new software from Archetype Solutions, Lands' End launched a custom-fit service on its website in 2001. As explained by Cullen and Szczesny, customers measure themselves, detail their style preferences and answer questions about their figure, producing a precise pattern that gets beamed to factories in Mexico or the Caribbean, and with customized apparel then arriving on the customer's doorstep three weeks later. While the company only expected the custom-line to expand sales by 10%, within a year's time, nearly half of all Lands' End pants sold online are custom made.
In order to determine the degree to which L.L. Bean and Lands' End have been successful in further evolving and establishing their traditional catalog and retail store customer base to the online shopping world, one measure have success may be evidence of customer satisfaction in addition to customer purchases. According to Hill (2002), when attempting to determine the degree to which customers are satisfied with an online shopping experience, the best measure of customer satisfaction is the likelihood that a customer will return to the site to shop again. While some have suggested that customer relationships are best understood by examining a group of attributes, including use of email and other channels to connect with the company, the real indicator of customer satisfaction is the degree to which they will make online purchases from the company on a repeat basis. One of the technologies that has been identified as enhancing online customer relationships, as reported by Hill, is personalization. Personalization is believed to increase loyalty, the time people spend on sites, the probability of their spending, and positive word-of-mouth conveyance regarding their shopping experiences. As explained by Hill, other experts have also indicated that when customers are satisfied with their online experiences with a company, it simply means that they believe the company, as the vendor, are doing everything they can to provide them with the service or good or support they need in a particular situation.
When considering L.L. Bean's online success, information provided by Bizrate.com (2003) that was obtained from over 500 customers that had made online purchases from the company suggests that the company has been successful thus far in evolving their customer base. The results of customer reviews are provided in Table 1.
Table 1: L.L. Bean's Customer Ratings
Detailed Store Ratings
9.5 out of 10
Would shop here again
Likelihood to buy again from this store
9.3 out of 10
Overall experience with this purchase
8.9 out of 10
Ease of finding what you are looking for How easily were you able to find the product your were looking for
9.0 out of 10
Selection of products
Types of products available
9.1 out of 10
Clarity of product information
How clear and understandable was the product information
8.0 out of 10
Prices relative to other online merchants
Prices relative to other web sites
8.9 out of 10
Overall look and design of site
Overall look and design of the site
8.2 out of 10
8.6 out of 10
Variety of shipping options
Desired shipping options were available
9.3 out of 10
Charges stated clearly before order submission
Total purchase amount (including shipping/handling charges) displayed before order submission
8.7 out of 10
Availability of product you wanted
Product was in stock at time of expected delivery
9.1 out of 10
Ability to track orders until delivered
9.4 out of 10
Product arrived when expected
9.3 out of 10
Product met expectations
Correct product was delivered and it worked as described/depicted