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Nov 24, 2003
Case Study

How to Get Online Teens to Love Your Retail Brand: Lessons from PacSun

SUMMARY: On average teens spend 25 minutes per visit when they go to PacSun's revamped Web site. Can you imagine a TV commercial for a retail store that would entrance them for that long? It's only possible on the Web.

If you're targeting the teen marketplace, you'll definitely want to check out this Case Study. And then visit the PacSun site yourself for some inspiration.

When brick and mortar retailer PacSun launched its
first Web site in December 1998, they were far ahead of the pack.
The site was super cool for its time with an all-black background
and a Welcome headline. (Remember those days?)

But, by last year, the site was embarrassingly dated. "We wanted
to rebrand the site for a while," admits Glenn Wilk, PacSun's
ecommerce & eMarketing Director.

Much as Wilk's team wanted to dash forward into a look and feel
redesign, it wasn't worth investing on the front end unless the
back-end was purring like a well-oiled machine. So, first they
patiently selected and integrated new back-end systems.

At last in early 2003, the design team were given the go-ahead to
revamp look and feel as quickly as humanly possible. "We were
franticly putting in lots of hours, working Saturdays, to get it

The main goal was to become a destination site for teens.

"We're a lifestyle brand. First and foremost the Web is a
branding thing for us. It corresponds to the emotional aspect of
shopping. You want to buy something at a certain place because
it makes you feel good. You could buy certain brands from any
other retailer -- the person chose to buy from PacSun for a

How do you build a site that teen shoppers adore so much they
spent a lot of time there - and ultimately shop more with you in
the channel of their choice?


First and foremost, Wilks' team decided that although
the site must serve multiple audiences including suppliers,
affiliates, press, and investors (PacSun is a public company),
all non-teen-related visitors would be funneled through a simple
"Company" tab in the upper left corner.

So, aside from that simple tab, everything else on the page
serves teen visitor activity. (After all, you don't walk into a
retail store and expect to see a pile of annual reports on the
front counter.)

-> Goal #1. Lifestyle brand building to support retail

"We can do stuff on the Internet that we can't do in the store
due to space limitations," says Wilk. "We're more focused on the
shopping experience in the stores. Online is more of an
immersive experience. You want the Internet to be an escape a
little bit, to be able to do different things."

So, the site prominently features a section entitled, 'Culture'
that includes a regularly updated pile of fun content for the
sake of content, such as interviews with famous surfers,
skateboarders, and gear designers; videos; music downloads;
lifestyle articles for "Girls Only"; ecards; contests; and even a
live surf cam.

Although the word "community" appears, Wilk notes, "We don't have
a bulletin boards or chat rooms because that can lead down
different roads. We don't want to be the place where people are
talking about their relationships and stuff like that. We
wouldn't want to digress."

Plus, PacSun underscores its lifestyle brand by plastering the
site with scores of real-looking photos of happy teens wearing
the brands sold. You won't see any standard model poses.
Instead these feel like casual snaps taken by someone who just
happens to hang out with cool teens and owns a digital camera.

Plus, on several main pages, visitors are invited to "Change the
faces" in the photos. You simply click on a button and the shot
completely changes.

-> Goal #2. Getting teens and parents to buy online

"A lot of our store business is cash based, so in 1998 we weren't
sure if teens would make purchases online," notes Wilks. PacSun
quickly learned that teens would indeed buy online - often using
their parent's credit card with permission.

The revamped site included a wide variety of features designed to
help sales, such as:

- Merging basic and advanced search into one easier-to-use
search system that shows more options, more quickly. (Link to
sample search before and after screenshots below.)

- Testing a variety of complimentary shipping offers to see
which one converted the most sales.

- Heavily promoting a Wish List feature throughout the site,
as well as via in-store promotions and related contests. The
Wish List button is next to the check-out button on the site -
shoppers cannot miss it.

- Coordinating with branded suppliers to create a continuous
series of this-site-only special offers, such as branded gifts
with order. It's a great way to get logo-ed tchochkes into the
hands of teen shoppers, and get your brand featured on the home

-> Goal #3. An email program that's not boring

Rather than send the same-old, same old newsletter every week,
PacSun created three very different newsletters:

- PacScene: lots of online offers
- PS Culture: Links to new online lifestyle content
- In Stores Now: Brick-and-mortar offers

Each runs to the same registered-users list on a revolving
schedule. And, aside from the PacSun logo, each looks very
different. (Link to samples below.)

Recognizing teens are privacy and email savvy, the site features
plenty of information on the email program, including a FAQs
page, privacy policy, easy get-off-list link, and HTML samples of
past issues.


Wilks says, "it's been a very strong growth year." For example, "In September, online sales grew 85%." Plus, year
over year the average length of a site visit grew from 20 to 25
minutes. In other words, PacSun is getting the kind of viewer
attention-span that a traditional half-hour TV show would.

More details:

- According to Bizrate data, search functionality comes up as the
number one factor PacSun shoppers say influences their
purchasing. Wilk definitely agrees that improving search has led
to higher conversions.

- Adding the Fedex logo to complimentary shipping offers was a
bigger success factor than varying purchase amount required. So,
now flourishes the Fedex logo prominently. Wilks
says, "They get it quicker, they want it quicker. It's a better
selling point. We learned Fedex carries a lot of weight."

- Teens adore clicking on the option to change the pictures on
the site. (Our reporters found it addictive too.)

- The wish list is "a big deal to our customer base," notes Wilk.
In addition to parent and grandparent purchases, female teens
are especially likely to purchase gifts for girlfriends with
lists. Plus, as other ecommerce sites have seen, many shoppers
use the wish list as a placeholder and return to purchase items
for themselves later.

- Wilk tracks newsletter results by the type of content (promo
offers vs lifestyle content) and discovered "surprisingly, the
content oriented ones do pretty well from time to time. I don't
think there's an exact rule, but some months content's actually
outperformed product-oriented ones."

He adds, "We haven't found a set pattern. That tells us people
don't always want to have the hard sale."

Useful links related to this article:

Samples of newsletters and site search before & after

AtomZ - PacSun's search technology provider
See Also:

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