About 10 years ago, when the internet was still largely a curiosity, about 5 percent of men browsed for clothes online. Last holiday season, that number reached 50 percent, according to Cotton Incorporated's Lifestyle Monitor™.

In modern retailing, it's almost foolhardy not to be a "click and mortar" store, with both a presence online and on the street. Granted, all stores don't offer the same level of cyber service: some are informational only; others are fullfledged retail arms. But web visibility is of utmost importance in today's information age.

At ae.com, the e-store for American Eagle Outfitters, sales increased by 45 percent in 2006, according to Jani Strand, spokesperson. "We see online as a major growth initiative for the company," she says.

At Gap Inc. Direct, the online division that began in 1997 and encompasses web business for Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy and Piperlime, net sales for the first three quarters of 2006 grew by nearly 26 percent over the same period in 2005.

"We view our e-commerce Web sites as very strong businesses in and of themselves," says Alex Clark, Gap Inc., spokesperson. "We did more than $700 million in online net sales in 2006. Of course, our web businesses depend on the iconic status of our brands - people who shop at Gap stores are the ones who visit Gap Online. And in the same way, our online presence influences store sales: much of our online traffic is comprised of people browsing prior to making a store visit."

For the first time, retailers are using Web sites in ways they never did before, says the National Retail Federation's Kathy Grannis, spokesperson.

"Things like product review sections give consumers the opportunity to see what others think of a product, and based on the reviews, they can either go in-store and get it, or just buy it online," Grannis explains. "Sites are also displaying upcoming promotions and in-store or online sales. The store locator may be the hot button on a site, but it can lead to product research, and then sales. Retailers are being more creative."

And they're coming up with exclusivity inducements involving contests and entertainment. American Eagle has been featuring unique content, such as its AE Campus Comedy Challenge, "which gives our customers another reason to visit the site and stay awhile," Strand says.

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