Established catalog retailers Lands’ End and L.L. Bean captured the top two positions in the Apparel category of the first ever Forrester PowerRankings announced today by Forrester Research, Inc. (Nasdaq: FORR). Forrester PowerRankings combine survey data from online consumers, rigorous shopping experience tests, and unbiased expert analysis to provide objective rankings of the leading eCommerce sites. Rounding out the top five positions in the Apparel category were Bluefly, Gap, and J.Crew.

“Both companies scored well with online consumers, reflecting the brand equity they have built through their offline operations,” said James L. McQuivey, senior analyst at Forrester. “Online, the two sites covered the basics very well, with smooth transactions, inexpensive shipping, and exceptional customer service creating a favorable shopping experience.”

Overall, Lands’ End and L.L. Bean benefited from the strength of their existing transaction, delivery, and customer service operations to dominate the Apparel category. Although both sites received low scores for features, the two captured three of the areas in which apparel retailers were scored; Lands’ End finished either first or second in five areas.

Bluefly, the highest ranked dot-com company in the Apparel category, stood out by offering low prices and free delivery. In addition to scoring first on cost, Bluefly offered the best features on its site, which included a gift finder and a personalized catalog. But in exchange for better prices and useful features, shoppers have to endure poor customer service, below average delivery and return policies, and the worst transacting processes in the category.

The remaining companies ranked in the Apparel category — Gap, J.Crew,, and Spiegel — each benefited from the consumer recognition their offline brands offer. But with the exception of, which scored first in usability, none of these sites stood out in any scoring area. Gap came in fourth by covering the basics and offering good features. Meanwhile, fifth-place J.Crew scored below average thanks to its high product and shipping costs and weak customer service. Despite its marquee name, ranked very low with consumers, while Spiegel needs to work on virtually every aspect of its site.

Forrester PowerRankings use consumer survey data from Greenfield Online’s 400,000-person online panel to identify the most popular eCommerce sites. The online shopping experience for each site is then evaluated by a team of Forrester shoppers who perform a series of rigorous tests in eight areas. The Forrester shoppers’ experience and the consumer data are then synthesized to generate an overall PowerRanking.

Forrester PowerRankings are currently available for online brokerages and seven major retail categories: Apparel; Books, Music, & Video; Computing; General Merchandise; Health; Flowers; and Toys & Games. Forrester plans to add more categories to PowerRankings in the weeks ahead. Additional information about each of the categories, including a complete set of rankings and scores, can be found at the PowerRankings Web site —