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Urban Outfitters: E-Commerce for a Digital World
By: Abdul Fattah Ismail
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Urban Outfitters has grown to over 100 stores across North America and select European nations with visions of greater expansion. It has a wide portfolio of casual wear paired with modern furniture design; its product portfolio brims with retro design and venerable American labels. Urban Outfitters also has a complex reach into the digital world with their online stores for computers and mobile phones. In an age of rapid transitions, Urban Outfitters is the quintessential apparel business for our time.

Urban's strategy has an extensive reach across multiple channels. They publish a monthly mail-order catalog, which spotlights rising designers on the independent fashion circuit. Women are the primary demographic, with models wearing featured pieces along with various accessories and jewelry. Men do get a small section, mostly filled with durable goods such as sweaters, boots, sneakers, button-down shirts, and denim. The latest catalog for December 2010 includes 55 pages of holiday goods for your friends and neighbors. 

The Urban Outfitters website is one of the more sophisticated in apparel. It engages customers with a multimedia mix of Adobe Flash, drop-down selection boxes, video, and slideshows. Products are featured with attractive models in crisp photographs, and the items are easily navigable. You can swipe and click to find accompanying pieces in your preferred taste. Product categories also allow extensive navigation within selected subcategories. Shoppers can sort through inventory according to price, most reviewed, highest rated, or brand. The website also has a section for online exclusives in each category, along with email and text updates for sales on those rare items. This approach does wonders for building brand equity with preferred customers that have a lengthy online history. Some consumers may find this amount of flexibility and detail overwhelming, but Urban’s demographic demands choice, and they get it.

Consumers living in New York can research the product features then call the closest store for availability. Shoppers can create a profile and tailor a level of communication to their tastes, sign up to receive exclusive promotions and digital goods such as music or coupons, and purchase gift cards with price points. Urban Outfitters maintains a blog that promotes rising musicians from the independent rock circuit through their blog and offers a select mix of 12 free songs available for immediate download to your computer.  Their blog also highlights a revolving door of trends, with content that might include music videos of emerging bands or an interview with a young designer. Everything, from clothing to blog content, is available on mobile devices.

Urban Outfitters has made a seamless transition onto mobile phones. The mobile commerce site can be accessed on a web-enabled phone’s Internet browser or through an application module for the iPhone and Android. Mobile commerce is developing into a force within the consumer industry. Customers can gain a brief but thorough review of their preferred product without the haggling of salespeople. Inventory can be limited on a mobile phone due to the inherent boundaries of mobile technology; nevertheless, the design has won favor with industry experts. According to The E-Tailing Group, Urban Outfitters ranks number one on the list of best mobile gift centers during this holiday season. E-Tailing cited the retailer's focus on creative categories and fixed price points, and notes that the ease of purchasing gift cards reinforces the efficiency of mobile browsing. Shopping requires little more than a personal account created on the full website.

Even the colloquialisms used on error pages are geared toward a fresh, young audience. For example, when a log-in error occurred during sign-in, this message appeared: “BUMMER: We don’t know what went wrong, but refresh this page and try again. It’s probably not a big deal." If you forget your password on the full website, the site tells you, “We Got Your Back.  Just Give Us Your Email Address and We’ll Send You Your Password.” Unlike many websites, Urban Outfitters simply sends the password created when the profile was first registered. You don’t have to create another unique code for access. Customers will appreciate this loyalty over time as traffic on e-commerce sites continues to grow. All of these details, from the minor touches to the major design choices, reinforce the retailer’s commitment to their young, mobile demographic. Urban Outfitters is a step ahead.

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About the Author

Abdul Fattah Ismail lives in New York and is an MBA candidate with St. John's University, majoring in Marketing Management.  He also writes blog articles on the interactive marketing sector for Blueliner Marketing, LLC , a New York interactive marketing agency with offices in India and Bangladesh. Prior to his graduate studies, he worked in the philanthropy and fashion industries as a database administrator and press assistant. Originally from South Bend, Indiana, he completed his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science at the University of Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter and read his blog

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