And speaking of REI

The online exploits of the Amerikanski outdoor-gear retailer – really a small-time outfit in the grand scheme of things – are documented so frequently that it’s raising our eyebrows. Are we dealing with journos projecting their love of the outdoors, or at least of outdoor knickknacks? Or are they just tired of writing about Amazon and phoning up some Danish-American blowhard for pre-scripted commentary?

REI Climbs Online”:

REI had a mission to inform, and management looked to the Internet to create informed employees and customers alike. “What we were hearing from our members was a need for product information,” said Jerry Chevassus, REI’s director of store development. “Our industry can be very ‘techie’ and intimidating at times. Our employees can be intimidating as well.” [...] There is a price paid for that authenticity, but it is hard to quantify. Some analysts say REI’s site has a homegrown look, which might be true to its roots, but lacks the slickness of a site like “REI’s site is a little more meaningful than most, but it’s certainly not the best I’ve seen,” said Ken Cassar, an analyst with Jupiter Communications Inc.

Oh, for heaven’s sake. “Meaning” is now officially excluded from the qualities that define a “best” site. (We’re suspending our usual practice of deleting the names of “analysts” so that this particular “analyst” can be tarred and feathered later on.)

“Any product” means the Web store offers 10,000 items, a larger assortment than any physical store, even the 100,000-square-foot Seattle flagship. “Any time,” of course, means the site operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and Mr. Hyde notes that 30 percent of orders come in between 10 P.M. and 7 A.M. Pacific standard time, when none of REI’s retail stores are open. “Any place” means the site is available wherever there is a computer. To make it more accessible, launched in five languages. [...] Now REI brings its Web site to kiosks placed throughout its retail stores, another pioneering move since emulated by the Gap and others.

Well, heck. Maybe “meaning” isn’t what the Gap is looking for anyway.

REI put up its Japanese Web site – – in response to the company’s surprisingly strong catalogue sales in that country.... REI kept the site authentic and localized content by hiring native Japanese speakers in Washington to develop the site. For example, on the site, ordering an item that is out of stock prompts a “sorry” message that includes a figure shrugging with his palms up. But REI’s Japanese site developers said this gesture would be considered impolite in their country, so it was replaced with a bowing figure.

A cutesy localization example better suited to television. Then again, these are Americans writing this. And shouldn’t the URL be or (the -J suffix is widely used) or simply Then again, these are Americans, who believe everyone speaks, reads, and types American.

And one question, after all this talk of REI: Why is Mountain Equipment Co-op so slow to do anything remotely similar? Having produced a report on one store’s wayfinding system that went over like a lead balloon, we suspect it has something to do with antiprogressiveness and rule by outdated granola-feminist ideology. (“Gaia will be harmed by an extensive Web site. Tread lightly! Selling gear in colours other than earth tones is hurting Gaia enough as it is. Decoration makes baby Gaia cry.”)

Confirm or deny.

Posted on 2000-12-17