eye-of-the-buyerEye Of The Buyer is a new column from TransWorld Business that takes an in-depth look at the buying strategies of the industry's most influential retail buyers.

Back in 2007, Zappos.com launched a group of vertical sites hoping to target more specialized markets. One of these sites is rideshop.zappos.com. The site currently offers thousands of footwear, apparel, accessory, and even hardgoods products from more than 130 brands with roots in the action sports market. These products—all of which ship overnight for free with a 365 day return policy—represent approximately 50,000,000 dollars in annual sales.

TransWorld Business reached out to Zappos Ride Shops' Managing Buyer Jim Copeland to find out what sold well in 2009 and what his buying strategy is moving into 2010. Here’s what he had to say. (Make sure to pick up the January 2010 issue of TransWorld Business to read the entire interview.)

What's your buying strategy for making buys for the site?

I would say 90% art and 10% science … It is mostly gut instinct, what's trending, vendor recommendations, and what we think the customer will ultimately purchase. We are fortunate enough not to be limited to square footage or shelf space since we are an online store, so it gives us the freedom to buy more fringe styles that some customer might not be able to find at his/her local skate shop. We tend to do pretty well with the off-the-wall colorways that are hard to find, but the majority of our business comes from the basic core styles/colors that we should always have in stock. A huge focus for our team this year has been making sure that we are fully stocked at all times with our core basics, or styles that tend to carry over season after season.

Jim Copeland

Jim Copeland

What are the best performing shoe styles currently selling on the site?

Core Classics from Vans, DC Court Graffik's, Globe Castro's, DVS Carsons/Revivals, Supra Skytops, etnies Faders to name a few.

What's the all-time best selling shoe?

Vans Classic Slip On (Black/Black)

When you visit tradeshows, meet with reps, et cetera what do you look for?

Emerging brands, new styles/colors to offer our customer. We typically try to make sure that all of our bases are covered so we're not missing any business. We also try to spend as much face time as we can with our vendors since they are the reason we even have a business. It's great to meet face-to-face and talk shop with our reps/executives and have that open and honest communication—to me that's the most important part of attending a trade show.

How much does previous season's sales trends impact your buying decisions?

There is definitely an emphasis on the previous season's trends. Since the skate shoe market fluctuates so much it's difficult to pinpoint the next emerging trend or brand. That being said we definitely rely heavily on historical data for particular colors and silhouettes.

How are vulcanized soles selling versus cup soles?

[We're selling] roughly 70% vulc, 30% cupsole.

How has this trend played out over the past few seasons and how long do you expect it to last?

Vulc is definitely quite a bit stronger right now mainly because of price and style. However, we have seen resurgence in cup soles and that "techy" skate shoe making a comeback. I think skateboarders have grown tired of blowing through a vulcanized shoe in just a few weeks and are looking for a longer lasting shoe to actually skate in. Fortunately brands have gotten a lot more creative with cupsole technology and are able to offer shoes with the look and feel of a vulcanized shoe, but with the durability of a cupsole. Lakai's "Lakaitning" technology is a perfect example of this.

How are high tops and sky tops performing for you?

Very well. For us it seems like the higher the better. Again I think we tend to do well with shoes that most shops tend to stay away from because on a wall some high tops look ridiculous, but there are people out there that want them. So, any searching online should direct them to us.

What other major trends have you noticed over the past season?

Vulcanized! Vulc is definitely not going anywhere. A lot of brands are slimming down their silhouettes and making shoes more narrow, which is a great thing. No more big, bulky skate shoes to lug around on your feet. The market is going lean to match with skinny jeans. Hi-Tops, the higher the better. An eco-friendly story seems to play a bigger role in a lot of the products we've seen for next year, which is definitely a good thing as well.

Looking ahead for 2010, what do you expect to retail well? Why?

I've seen a lot of greys and different material stories that I expect to perform well next year.  Again a major focus for us is definitely making sure we have those basics covered so our customers aren't disappointed when they come back to us for their "go-to" shoe.

Have you seen any new brands or styles that you are particularly interested in for 2010?

We're all pretty excited about Axion making its comeback and looking forward to seeing some great stuff from them down the road. We recently launched Fallen Footwear so we're excited to get things moving with them. Ipath had some strong offerings and we tend to do well with hemp stories. Supra is always dropping creative styles and we're all anticipating the Spring launch of the Skytop II which should perform extremely well for us.

From a color standpoint, have you seen any consistent trends? What's selling and what's not?

Mostly neutral colors, for us it's black, brown, and white all day long. Two-tone paneling and color blocking seems to always sell well for us. Keeping it simple and clean seems to be the way to go right now. Prints have gone way down but some of the bold, fluorescent 80s colors are still performing for us and I think that will stick around for a while.