Byline: Jim Ostroff

WASHINGTON — One day soon — maybe as soon as this fall — consumers will be able to locate any of the thousands of apparel items stocked on retailers’ shelves, in their catalogs, and on their Web sites with a couple of mouse clicks.
At least, that’s the best-case scenario of the National Retail Federation and its member companies, which are developing database management and e-tailing protocols that will link the brick, click and catalog retailers, along with their Web sites, to all of the Internet’s major search engines. If a search engine locates an e-commerce site carrying the sought- after goods, of course, cybershoppers will then be able to buy that merchandise with a few more clicks of the mouse.
Participants in the NRF e-commerce project include Federated Department Stores, Lands’ End, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, Target Corp., Goody’s Family Clothing, Fila USA, Perry Ellis International, Jockey International, Genesco and OshKosh B’gosh. Also contributing are software developer Blue Martini, and online business exchange QRS. Consumers trolling for a double-breasted white blouse or relaxed-fit slacks will never see the invisible metasite, currently being developed, which the NRF has dubbed FastFind, or FFIND.
Instead, they’ll be whisked to a printed list of retailers that have either the exact apparel item the shopper is seeking, or something like it, in their inventory, explained Cathy Hotka, NRF’s vice president of information technology.
The cybershopper can purchase the apparel that day if the retailer has a Web link, or make an inquiry via telephone if the company is linkless.