December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

When style speaks, people listen

Don Davis

Editor in Chief

Some people can’t get enough convenience. Online marketer Sombassa Media is banking on convenience-driven consumers to drive demand for a free email newsletter that not only entices fashion shoppers to apparel sites, but tells them what to buy as well.

Called StyleSpeak, the free weekly newsletter is personalized and features fashions that Sombassa believes will appeal to the subscriber. While Sombassa will not reveal how many shoppers have signed up for the newsletter, the company is building on a successful newsletter that promoted bargains. Launched in June 1999 with the BargainDog.com site, that newsletter directs 1 million subscribers to on-sale items from 300 merchants. And it has been a proven generator of sales. At-youroffice.com experienced a 22.5% conversion rate from browsers to buyers, well over the average range 2-10%.

Subscribers sign up at Style-Speak.com or through Bargain-Dog.com and can choose outfits for men or women in varying themes. The newsletter, which pitches such apparel themes as “Summer Lovin’” and “Career Cool,” directs buyers to various web sites. With the success of BargainDog’s newsletter, retailers were looking for a way to hawk full-price goods as well, says David Beisel, vice president of marketing at Sombasa Media, a subsidiary of the About Inc. network of vertical portals. Participating online merchants include The Gap, Esprit, eBags, Lands’ End and Eyeglasses.com, among others.

Sombasa Media is marketing StyleSpeak only online. It is pitching to subscribers of the BargainDog newsletter and visitors to BargainDog.com and is running banner ads on About and About’s partners’ sites and seeking other advertising sites. It chose the apparel and accessory category because other categories, such as CDs and books, have specific, dominant sites where people know they can go to shop online, such Amazon.com or CDNow. “When people look to buy clothes online, they know less of what they are looking for or where to look,” says Beisel.

The newsletter gives them packaged outfits from different retailers that they can click through to buy.

BargainDog’s most popular category is apparel and its best shoppers are women. Typical subscribers to StyleSpeak are middle-aged women with enough disposable income that they can buy on impulse and who are interested in staying up to date on styles.

How does StyleSpeak decide what’s hot and what’s not? “We work with the retailers to figure out which products they would like to feature in our newsletter. Then our product managers take the available products and package them into a themed category based on what the merchants want to sell,” says Beisel.

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