• L.L. Bean is partnering with Zappos. Starting Thursday Bean Boots will be available on Zappos, and fleece, flannel, and outerwear will roll out in the coming days.
  • This is the latest wholesale partnership for L.L. Bean. In July, it announced its first wholesale partnerships in its 108-year history with Staples, Nordstrom and Scheels.
  • L.L. Bean CEO Stephen Smith said the company has done well during the pandemic, including a “record-breaking” September, because its products have “mirrored the American psyche.”
  • Smith said they’re approaching these wholesale partnerships as tests, and want to introduce new customers to the brand by meeting them “where they are.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

L.L. Bean products are now available on e-commerce destination Zappos. Starting Thursday, customers will be able to find the outfitter’s famous flagship product, Bean Boots, on Zappos’ site. More of L.L. Bean’s best-selling products, including fleece, flannels, and outerwear, will roll out on Zappos in the coming days.

“Their customer service and customer experience is amazing,” Stephen Smith, CEO of L.L. Bean, told Business Insider in an interview. The two companies began conversations about the partnership in Fall 2019. “Zappos wants to grow their assortment in the outdoor sports and outdoor market, where we have authority. And from a testing perspective, we get to learn about their e-commerce business.”

L.L. Bean has been a direct-to-consumer business for most of its 108-year history. But this past July, it began a foray into wholesale partnerships, announcing that for the first-time ever L.L. Bean products would be available through other retailers. The company launched its wholesale partnerships with Staples, Nordstrom, and midwest sporting-goods store Scheels — Zappos is the latest in this run. Smith said the company is approaching these partnerships as tests, as it dips its toes into wholesaling.

“We’re being very deliberate about who we work with,” he said. “These are all tests and they are all opportunities for us to learn.” 

The partnership with Zappos offers L.L. Bean broader online discoverability as the US heads into a holiday shopping season that will likely put a bigger emphasis on e-commerce than ever before. Because Zappos is a seasoned e-commerce company — it was founded in 1999 — it brings online sales and logistics expertise that will hopefully help satisfy customers, despite predictions that the surge in online holiday purchasing will lead to strained shipping capacity.

“Zappos obviously is well-placed being pure e-comm as we head into a challenging shopping season, not knowing how customer habits will change,” Smith said.

Karlyn Mattson, General Manager of Merchandise Strategy at Zappos, said the company is prioritizing “ensuring that our delivery promise is the best it possibly can be” going into the 2020 Holiday season.

Mattson said Zappos’ customer base has been searching for L.L. Bean products on the site for years, estimating the queries for L.L. Bean were in the “tens of thousands” per month. Zappos defines its core customer as the “CEO Mom” — a head of household who is the primary organizer, manager, and supporter of her family. Mattson noted that the breadth of L.L. Bean’s product catalog — the retailer sells everything from home goods to technical outdoor gear to cozy slippers — has aligned perfectly with the shift towards home, comfort, and the outdoors during COVID.

“What Bean provides to the customer could not be more fitting for the unusual time,” Mattson said.

Bean is one of the retailers that has done well in the pandemic because of its core products. “This year, our assortment mirrored the American psyche, literally minute by minute,” Smith said. 

In March, when lockdowns hit the US, the retailer’s slipper sales went up 100% over the previous year. In April as the weather warmed, hammock sales surged 150%. In May and June bike sales soared at 400%, and in July and August watersport interest picked up, with kayaks and stand-up paddleboard sales up 140% and 167%, respectively. Smith called the company’s September sales “record-breaking,” noting that Ultrasoft Sweats sales were up 430%, and that the two top-selling categories were water sports and winter sports, indicating consumers are already planning out how to spend their winter outdoors.

This momentum makes Smith feel confident about these new wholesale relationships. “We’re not reliant upon any of these [partnerships],” he said.

Though the company is experiencing a successful 2020, the sales boost comes on the heels of a few years of restructuring.

In 2018, the company instituted a buyout plan to reduce its 5,000 full-time employees by 10% and ended its pension plan, according to the Bangor Daily News. In 2019, employees didn’t receive annual bonuses for the first time in a decade. 

Though originally an outdoor outfitter, L.L. Bean takes a lifestyle approach, versus a technical one, to enjoying the outdoors. That might have cost the company some relevancy in recent years as gear brands like Patagonia increased in popularity, but Smith says it’s worked well for them during the pandemic, when families are looking to increase their time outside, but aren’t necessarily scaling mountains.

“We’ve developed our assortment really as a lifestyle brand for people who are truly inspired by the restorative powers of the outdoors.”

Ultimately, Smith said the new partnerships will help introduce the L.L. Bean brands to a new set of customers who might not have otherwise considered it.

“We have been a direct business for a long period of time. We know our customers very well, but we want to expand our channel mix to be able to meet customers where they are.”

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