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Register experience shows why Levi's was right to scrap online sales

One leg shorter than other

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Mass customisation. Isn't that something the Internet is supposed to be good at? Not if you're Levi Strauss, the jeans manufacturer, which is scrapping online sales.

Levi was an exponent of mass customisation - you could order made to your measure jeans from the Web site. Sounds good in theory, but in practice, the execution left a hell of a lot to be desired, judging from the experience of Register hack Mike Magee.

Two years ago, he bought a pair of made to measure Levi denims through an online kiosk in a Levi's store in London. The jeans arrived with one leg two inches shorter than another... from time to time Magee has a bit of a limp (an old biking injury), but his legs are the same length. Back to the shop, back to the Levi's online kiosk to order a fresh pair of jeans... which turned up, this time with the other leg two inches shorter than the other.

Magee doesn't buy clothes online any more.

Levi Strauss is scrapping its own online sales for budgetary reasons - "It is very costly to run a truly world-class e-commerce business," A Levi spokesman said in the FT.

Levi's reckons the e-business is unaffordable, which is rich, coming from one of the world's biggest companies. Maybe it should go back to making jeans in Burma. This would save a penny or two.

From next month Levi's will start selling jeans and Dockers chinos through the Web sites of US department stores JC Penney and Macy's. Does that mean that other Web sites are not supposed to sell Levi's jeans?

Levi Strauss appears to be a victim of its own history. Offline, Levi's operates a restrictive distribution policy, a handy tactic for keeping prices high and retailers in check. This is the antithesis of Web retailing, which is characterised by open distribution and keen pricing, two concepts that appear foreign to Levi Strauss. ®

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