By  on November 6, 2008

Rich & Skinny's web store is as unusual as anything in retail. Visitors see a house with a pool and animated characters walking around. A click on a character’s portrait launches an episode from a tongue-in-cheek soap-opera-type film called “Lifestyles of the Rich & Skinny.” A short called “Heiress Gone Wild” is more than a little risqué, discussing its characters’ sex lives in some detail, and ends with a product page about the jeans the character wears.

Not all premium denim brands are as innovative, but they are finding that online stores help them communicate with customers, make it easier for shoppers to hunt down product and drive offl ine, as well as online, sales. And even with a product category in which a good fit is of supreme importance, online brands have found style and fit guides go a long way toward helping shoppers choose the right pair.

“With an e-commerce site, you really get to reach markets and areas where you don’t have any channels and distribution,” said Seven For All Mankind vice president of retail Aaron Battista. “It puts a face on your brand, and it allows you to tell a story with your imagery and language.”

Many lines have even opened online stores before opening physical ones. This was the case with Seven, which has since gone on to open 10 shops.

Seven’s online store also coincided with the launch of the brand’s sportswear collection, allowing shoppers to easily become acquainted with the line on the Web. Now any new product launch gets big play online.

True Religion opened up shop online in 2005 to help customers buy its — at the time — hard-to-find product.

“In 2005, our distribution was not as extensive as it is today,” said True Religion marketing executive Gina Paik. “People would go into stores and the stores would be sold out of the product, or the size.” So, the brand put every stockkeeping unit and licensed item on the site. “It was a great way to show the entire line,” she said.

The Web provides a place for back-and-forth with customers around the globe. It also stimulates shopping trips to physical stores to check out merchandise firsthand.

Said Seven For All Mankind’s Battista, “It’s a great way to do business these days, and an exciting way to tell a story to a customer through your Web site.”

A relaunch in July added Web 2.0 features, so now visitors can leave comments and reviews, see video and read blogs and profiles.

Rich & Skinny wanted to try something different with its Web store. “We need a new way to market our brand,” said Rich & Skinny chief executive officer Michael Glassner, who was a co-founder of Seven and Citizens of Humanity. “Does [the Web site] translate to everyone buying? No, but it translates to a lot of talk.”

There will be a tie-in with Nordstrom, and there is thought of making the story into an actual film. Although the site launched only last month, the conversion rate is better than the industry average of 3 percent, he said.

Shoppers can get their questions about fit answered by leaving comments on the blog or e-mailing the company.

Glassner said Rich & Skinny has no plans to build physical stores. “In lieu of us doing actual retail stores, our business will be built online,” he said. “That’s the future of the business.”

True Religion gets around the fit problem by offering free shipping and fit and size guides. “We want the experience to mimic a real shopping experience in one of our stores as much as possible,” said Paik.

Paige Denim offers an interactive fit guide. Customers answer a series of questions and the site recommends styles to them.

Other denim brands with online stores include Genetic and Lucky Brand Denim.

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