By  on October 12, 2005

When Timberland expanded the selection of footwear that shoppers can customize online and upgraded technology to streamline the process two months ago, browser-to-buyer conversion rates doubled.

In August, added six new styles to the lone boot it launched for online customization last year. Shoppers can specify so many product details — including colors, hardware, laces and typefaces for monogramming — that more than one million combinations are possible for any one base style, said Stacey Howe, manager of electronic commerce marketing and merchandising for the Stratham, N.H.-based company.

"An emerging trend is personalizing your product," said John Pazzani, Timberland's vice president of consumer direct. He said the site's overall conversion rate jumped 100 percent, while conversion on the original boot style offered for customization rose nearly 300 percent. The $1.5 billion company does not disclose online conversion rates.

A key upgrade to the site is a speedy product-configuring tool that instantly updates images as a consumer designs a boot. When a shopper clicks on the "mauve waterbuck" swatch as the color for the boot's leather upper, the image changes to that color in less than a second. The configurator encourages design experimentation because consumers can quickly see how a mauve boot looks with a chocolate brown collar, navy laces, antique brass eyelets and a white midsole. Speedy delivery of images is made possible because the configuring tool works directly off the user's own computer, rather than the Web site server.

Consumers using Timberland's previous product configurator transmitted their color choices to the Web site's server. The server would respond by sending back to the user an updated image file. This round-trip exchange of data "resulted in a pretty significant delay" in the online personalization process, Howe said.

The configuration tool, developed by Fluid of San Francisco, supports other features such as product rotation for multiple views and zoom — all while keeping custom-configured details intact.

"To my knowledge," Howe said, "no one else out there has this technology. It was really important to us to include that because the challenge in an online environment is trying to replicate that tactile-visual experience of an offline environment."

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