High-Tech Runner-up: Talbots

Talbot's innovative online reservation system fits the customer well.

Shopping online for clothes could be a huge time saver for busy professional women--if only they matched the exact size and shape of the models wearing the goods. In February, classic-apparel retailer Talbots went high tech to solve that disconnect with Style Search, a feature that puts the inventories of its more than 1,000 stores at the fingertips of shoppers. Customers reserve items at a nearby store on Talbots.com, then stop by to try them on. "There's not too many retailers, save for consumer-electronics guys like CompUSA, that do this," says Patti Freeman Evans, a retail analyst at Jupiter Research. And Talbots appears to be the first in the apparel industry.

Customers are responding: During the feature's first four months, use of Style Search increased 59%, with reservations at stores jumping 75%. The company is capitalizing on a trend long overlooked by competitors Ann Taylor and Chico's: Some two-thirds of women scope things out online before heading to the stores. Talbots may sell classic clothes, but its approach to technology is anything but traditional.

See the full 2005 Customers First Awards.

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