Online retailers spend thousands and even millions of dollars on market research to determine where to dedicate resources.

But all eBags.com co-founder and Executive Vice President Peter Cobb has to do is consult with his three children, who are 17, 19 and 20 years old and  and conduct just about all of their shopping through their computers or mobile devices.

“I see how they use technology, and they don’t consider getting in their car and driving 20 minutes to a mall as an option,” Cobb says. “They get out their iPad, swipe away and say, ‘Here’s what I want, Dad. What’s your credit card number again?’ Talk about witnessing the future of retail firsthand.”

Brick-and-mortar retail locations will be hard-pressed to compete with e-commerce sites such as eBags.com, which has specialized in selling handbags, luggage, business and laptop cases, backpacks, messenger bags, sport and duffel bags, travel accessories, wallets and electronics cases since 1999. Based in Greenwood Village, Colo. – located just outside of Denver – eBags.com offers more than 50,000 items from 585 brands, and is regularly listed among the top 100 e-retailers on the Internet.

Thriving Online

Through the years, as it has faced more competition, eBags.com has maintained its focus on service to stay on the forefront of the consumers’ minds. One way the company has done this is by altering its site as the way consumers shop online has morphed.

Today, eBags.com has launched sites that cater to PCs, tablets and smartphones. No matter the platform, however, catering to those who want to find the perfect product in a few clicks is a challenge.

“We stay true to zeroing in on becoming the best bag retailer there is,” Cobb says. “In some respects that can become a challenge because on some platforms – whether it is a PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone – how do you get people within three or four clicks to find the perfect bag for them? It is not easy, and we’re proud of how we focused on achieving that.”

One way eBags.com has attempted to meet this demand is by focusing strictly on bags and related items instead of offering every product under the virtual sun on its site. “It’s really about focusing on the customer, and not trying to be the biggest, or offer electronics, cookware, apparel, etc.,” he says. “If you want a bag and you have a favorite brand, we’ll have it for you.”

The company also uses a simple test called “A-B testing.” This process puts two options up against each other to determine which is the better seller, and that item is more prominently displayed on the website.

Better than Traditional Retail

Since its inception, eBags.com has had a goal of not only competing with traditional retailers with physical presences, but to outshine them, as well. Cobb says the company offers what sales associates in brick-and-mortar locations typically cannot, including customer reviews and videos of its products in use.

“Our attitude is, ‘Let’s have it be better than a store,” Cobb says. “If you shop someplace, typically there isn’t anyone in the department there to help you.”

One such aid eBags.com offers is its laptop bag finder. The company has partnered with Cnet.com, a technology news outlet, to populate a list of computer models to pair with eBags.com’s laptop case product offerings. Customers can whittle down the options by material, brand, functionality, size, accessories and styles.

“This lets you do a better job of shopping and finding a certain bag vs. in a store, where you’ll see a massive amount of products and have to figure it out on your own,” Cobb says.

Prioritizing the Next Step

The eBags.com site is continuously upgrading with larger images, site personalization, and adding wish lists and holiday shopping lists. Cobb says the company is constantly monitoring the latest trends in social media, as well, to determine how to best utilize outlets like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

“For a company like ours, it is a virtual playground of what you want to dive into, but you have to be realistic in terms of  your resource limitations,” Cobb says. “We’re prioritizing what we want to go after so we’re not caught up in the shiny-object syndrome.”

E-commerce firms like eBags.com must strike the delicate balance of being on the cutting-edge of the latest advances while keeping ease of customer use in mind. In fact, the company just finished the first complete overhaul of its platform in its 13-year history.

“We’ll be faster and more nimble and much tighter, and from there we’ll be able to take on more initiatives to continually improve the eBags.com shopping experience, ” Cobb says. “It comes down to letting customers tell us what enhancements they like and listening when they tell us we did not hit the mark. There’s an old saying: ‘Retail is detail.’ So small, incremental improvements lead to large gains over time.”

Recruiting Talent

Cobb credits eBags.com’s headquarters near Denver as being its best recruitment tool. He says the area is full of IT experts who left California’s Silicon Valley for a better quality of life. Cobb himself has a 10-minute walk to work, and the company allows employees to bring their dogs to work every Friday.

It isn’t easy to join the eBags.com team, however. Cobb says the application process is long, involving up to 16 different interviewers plus a homework assignment, depending on the position. 

“It’s time-consuming and costly to hire someone just to find out in 90 days that is not a good fit for the new hire or eBags, ” Cobb explains. “So we take a lot of time in making sure it’s a great fit culturally.”

Future in the Bag

Cobb says the future is bright for eBags.com considering 93 percent of the categories his website offers are still purchased in stores. Instead of focusing on the 7 percent of market share that is exclusive to the Internet, he believes the best is yet to come as more consumers find their way to online retailing – as his children have shown with their habits.

“It’s really incredible,” he says. “As this group continues to get older, the transition and migration from going into the store in the mall will continue. Who wants go into a mall and buy a piece of luggage? It’s impractical vs. having it delivered directly to your door. If you don’t like it, ship it back. It’s friction-free retail.”

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