By Evan Schuman  |  Posted 2004-12-06 Print this article Print

-Low Merchandise Return Rates"> Clothing retailers have always had stocking challenges. "Apparel is a stock nightmare," Debby Garbato, the editor-in-chief of the monthly retail magazine Retail Merchandiser, told in an earlier interview about the Sears/Kmart merger. "You have a million sizes and a million colors. Youre talking SKU management that is unbelievable. And in three months, all of the styles will change." At PacSun, though, they dodge some of those bullets. They have a significantly low e-commerce return rate—about five percent—and Clark attributes much of that to the way the chains young consumers wear casual clothes.
Unlike the super-tight-fitting formal/party clothes popular with American youth, casual outfits today tend to be much baggier, which gives a lot more leeway on sizing. To get a size wrong with a roomy casual outfit is tough, Clark said.
"The way our customer dresses is not at all tight-fitting," she said. "Weve looked at a lot of options to help customers with ways to fit things perfectly, including the virtual model." But she said she ultimately concluded that the basic measurements were quite adequate for purchasing casual youth-oriented clothes. Another difference of a youthful customer base is a higher-than-typical comfort level with technology and the latest applications. "Our customers are very early adopters," Ehlers said. For example, Ehlers said PacSun is exploring some interactive cell phone uses that are growing in popularity in Japan that would theoretically allow cell phones to be used for payment and store advertisements. "Were keeping an eye on that one closely," he said, "to see if our customers start demanding it." Is the mighty U.S. retailer being out-geeked by Asian retailers? To read about whether complacency will be the U.S. retailers undoing, click here. Although not interested in self-checkout given the small size of most of the PacSun stores, Ehlers said he is interested in using wireless devices for inventory management, wireless POS terminals (to be brought out during peak times, such as the current holiday season) and possibly handheld wireless checkout devices. Such "line-buster" devices allow clerks to check out customers merchandise while the customers are still standing in line. In other tech areas, Ehlers agreed with most other clothing retailers who see little exciting benefit in the near term from RFID. "In our business, we dont see a big benefit from RFID for a number of years," he said. "Anybody thats really looked at RFID in depth sees only a 70 to 80 percent accuracy. Thats a 20 to 30 percent failure rate on RFID chips right out of the box." Given an absence of interest in tracking clothing at the item level and the fact that his people already collect data from every shipment, he said that he didnt see much of a return-on-investment argument. "Were already doing all of our own scanning via barcode. It doesnt really gain us a lot," Ehlers said. Retail Center Editor Evan Schuman can be reached at Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on technologys impact on retail.

Evan Schuman is the editor of's Retail industry center. He has covered retail technology issues since 1988 for Ziff-Davis, CMP Media, IDG, Penton, Lebhar-Friedman, VNU, BusinessWeek, Business 2.0 and United Press International, among others. He can be reached by e-mail at

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