Which clothing merchants really cater to customers?

Consumer Reports News: December 17, 2008 11:40 PM

Flat-screen TVs, digital cameras, and MP3 players might be the glitzy gifts that set your heart aflutter, but when it comes to what Americans buy most for the holidays, clothing rules.

When Consumer Reports National Research Center surveyed the nation’s shoppers in October, nearly 70 percent said they intend to purchase apparel this season as a present for themselves, family, or friends.

While most people still buy clothes in actual stores, more consumers ordered apparel, accessories, and shoes online last year than any other category of merchandise.

In the December issue of Consumer Reports, we ranked 39 major Internet clothing sellers, based on 25,565 reader judgments of value, quality, fit, selection, and ease of ordering. The full report is available to subscribers.

Overall, 85 percent of those surveyed were highly satisfied with their online clothes-shopping experience. That’s a higher satisfaction score than for most other services we’ve measured recently.

In looking over the list, I decided to compare the return policies of the Web merchants that readers said offered the best combination of quality and bang for their buck.

Here’s how they match up:

L.L. Bean
In business since 1912, Bean is known for its no-questions-asked return policy: “Our products are guaranteed to give 100% satisfaction in every way. Return anything purchased from us at any time if it proves otherwise. We do not want you to have anything that is not completely satisfactory.” The company offers free shipping and returns only to customers who us an L.L. Bean Visa Card. For everyone else, standard shipping rates are based on the dollar amount of your order and range from $4.95 to $10.95.

Founded as an online shoe outlet in 1999 by a disgruntled footwear customer, the company has expanded into clothes, electronics, jewelry, and housewares. The Zappos pledge: “If you are not 100% satisfied with your purchase, we will be happy to accept a return for a full refund for up to 365 days from the purchase date. Products must be in the condition you received them and in the original box and/or packaging. Any electronic product that has been opened and/or used cannot be returned unless the unit was received defective. Opened software, music, games, and movies may be exchanged for the same title only.” Zappos offers free two-way shipping, one of the few companies to do so, and will also provide customers with pre-paid UPS or U.S. Postal Service labels for return shipments.

Duluth Trading Co.
Founded in 1991 by tradesmen to offer construction workers, plumbers, carpenters, and the like durable, field-tested workwear, Duluth Trading Co. still sells unique clothes as well as tool and car organizers and other gadgets. The company’s return policy is clear-cut: “If you’re not completely satisfied with any item you purchase from Duluth Trading, return it to us at any time for an exchange or refund of its purchase price.” The back of the packing slip serves as a "pre-authorized" return form. The company promises to process your return or exchange within 24 hours. Shipping fees for standard delivery are based on dollar amount of order and range from $6.95 to $17.95. Customer pays for returns.

Dating back to 1961, Cabela’s is best known for its hunting, fishing, and camping gear. But like many other merchants, it’s broadened its mix to appeal to women, children, pets, and other outdoor enthusiasts. “The way we look at it, we've got no business asking for your next order until you're 100% satisfied with your last order. To make sure you get everything you expect from Cabela's, we back your purchase with our famous 100% Satisfaction Guarantee. You can buy with confidence, knowing that if you're not completely satisfied with your order when it arrives, you can return it for a prompt exchange or refund.” Shipping charges depend on dollar amount of order and range from around $4.95 to $18.95 for standard delivery. Customer pays for return shipping.

Lands’ End
Begun as a sailboat equipment company in 1963, Lands’ End now specializes in traditional clothing, luggage, and housewares. The company is famous for its unconditional satisfaction pledge: “If you’re not satisfied with any item, simply return it to us at any time for an exchange or refund of its purchase price. We mean every word of it. Whatever. Whenever. Always. But to make sure this is perfectly clear, we’ve decided to simplify it further. Guaranteed. Period.”
Shipping charges are based on dollar amount of order and range from $5.95 to $18.95 for standard delivery. If you need to return an item and re-order it in another size or color, return shipping is free. Otherwise customer pays the freight. Returns can be made to any Sears store where Lands’ End merchandise is sold.

Marc Perton

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