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.
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A version of this article appeared in the October 2005 issue of Fast Company magazine.