May 27, 2009, 12:00 AM

Charlotte Russe leads Top 500 retailers with 633% growth in 2008

Charlotte Russe Holding Inc. reported 2008 web sales of $11 million, up by 633% compared with $1.5 million in 2007, its start-up year. The online sales boom put Charlotte Russe at the top of Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide sales growth category.

Charlotte Russe Holding Inc., a chain retailer of young women’s apparel, reported 2008 web sales of $11 million, up by 633% compared with $1.5 million in 2007, its start-up year. The online sales boom put Charlotte Russe at the top of Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide sales growth category.

Like many other retail apparel chains, Charlotte Russe, No. 464 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, suffered through a dismal 2008, recording a 1.5% decline in comparable-store sales compared with the prior year. In contrast, the web sales surge in 2008 dovetailed with a new marketing strategy and new leadership. “The majority of our demographic is girls from age 16 to 22,” says Emilia Fabricant, who was named president and chief merchandising officer in November 2008. “In the past, the company was very quiet in its marketing and branding efforts, but we’ve relaunched the brand in perfect harmony with the growth of e-commerce. And we relaunched with a very focused point of view in targeting the fashion-directed customer who knows what’s in fashion and what she wants to wear.”

But getting up to speed rapidly meant the company needed to shave time off the e-commerce learning curve. Charlotte Russe turned to third-party providers both for reaching its audience and for e-commerce technology, without which the company wouldn’t have made such inroads, says Craig Gillan, director of e-commerce.

The company uses GSI Commerce Inc.’s e-commerce platform, including fulfillment, customer service and search marketing, and for the web site’s front-end tools, such as site search and order management. Other third-party providers include e-Dialog Inc. for e-mail marketing, Commission Junction for affiliate marketing, Red Door Interactive Inc. for social networking and Forrester Research Inc. for market intelligence. The company also is working with Fry Inc. to consult on e-commerce merchandising, inventory planning and marketing, and web site analytics and program management. And it just signed with Allurent Inc. last week for online merchandising.

Gillan also cited information gleaned from many of GSI’s other e-retail customers, excluding direct competitors, as invaluable in the success of CharlotteRusse.com. And even if the e-retailer had wanted to build its own marketing and technology staff, the talent pool isn’t deep. “It’s tough to find a lot of e-commerce experience out there,” he says.

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