January 15, 2003, 12:00 AM

With business booming, the UK`s FigLeaves.com sees sharp growth in U.S.

With a boost from its recent move into the U.S., FigLeaves.com`s 2002 holiday sales nearly doubled 2001`s activity. The ability to offer free shipping on its lightweight lingerie is also helping business, CEO Michael Ross tells InternetRetailer.com.

The web often brings unexpected advantages to particular types of retailers, such as FigLeaves.com, the London-based lingerie merchant. A tendency for lingerie shoppers to shop in the privacy of their homes and the ease of shipping lightweight garments are helping to drive up the e-retailer`s fortunes, CEO Michael Ross tells InternetRetailer.com.

FigLeaves did $1.6 million in December sales, nearly double that of a year ago, Ross says. Sales for the full holiday shopping season, which Ross defines as early November to Dec. 20, reached $2 million, also nearly twice the year-ago period, he adds.

Although Ross says he`s noticed other online lingerie operations cut back from the web -- a direct competitor, Underneath.com, disappeared from the market last year -- he`s found the lingerie business particularly well suited to online sales. Some consumers prefer the privacy of shopping online for lingerie, especially for gifts, he says. And the light weight of products has allowed him to offer free worldwide standard shipping on all orders, regardless of purchase amount.

FigLeaves recently launched a sister web site of the same name for the U.S. market and that site already accounts for 15% of sales. "We expect that to increase, and we`re starting to ramp up marketing," Ross says. "We`re after global underwear domination."

FigLeaves` marketing program focuses primarily on advertising and keyword search arrangements with major Internet portals such as AOL, Google, Overture Services Inc., Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp.`s MSN network.

It also has 300,000 opt-in e-mail addresses -- twice as many as its number of registered customers -- which Ross says he`ll target with e-mail promotions.

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