By  on November 29, 2007

J.C. Penney Co. has launched an Internet strategy intended to provide customers with a broad range of detailed, updated information on everything from prices to promotions.

The initiative, called "Know Before You Go,'' is in the final stages of rollout and is to be completed by the end of 2007.

"We're increasingly learning that our shoppers are more frequently using the Internet before ever stepping foot in a store," said John Irvin, president of J.C. Penney Direct, which includes the Internet and catalogue divisions.

"We've done extensive research that shows that nearly 70 percent of customers are online for a purpose other than shopping, including viewing merchandise, comparing prices, finding sales and promotions and exploring fashion and shopping tips, etc.,'' he said. "A growing number of customers are demanding a more integrated, engaging and educational experience."

The proprietary program uses more powerful search and product technology designed to make it easier and more enticing to shop at, Penney's $1.3 billion Internet business that includes more than 250,000 items. The Web site is updated hourly in an effort to provide the most accurate search information.

For example, online shoppers can link to the supply information for any Penney's store to check for local availability of an item by color and size. There is a Penney's store within 60 miles of 80 percent of the U.S. population, according to the retailer's research. The chain, which has in excess of 1,000 units across the U.S., has embarked on a more than $3 billion development program to open 150 stores — mostly off-the-mall units in previously untapped or underserved markets.

The site is providing more detailed and focused product and fit information, such as color, size, brand, fabric composition and laundry requirements, as well as enhanced fashion photography. Other new or improved features include trend boxes, price comparison tools, sales and promotional information and gallery views that allow shoppers to see all the products in a search category at the same time, along with color alternatives and alternate product views.

The Internet initiative is part of a chainwide program to fine-tune Penney's multichannel marketing and merchandising outreach to consumers and encourage cross-channel shopping. Penney's has installed more than 35,000 point-of-sale cash register systems in all stores that link to its Web site.Irvin said that traffic is growing by double digits, with fashion generating the highest amount of traffic and home producing the most sales.

"Not all who visit our Web site are transacting online e-commerce, but they are using the Internet to make a well-thought-out and educated choice of where to shop at a store," Irvin said. "We have always said that we want to be the driveway decision when a consumer chooses where to shop — now our shoppers are choosing their retail shopping itineraries on their home computer."

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