February 19, 2003, 12:00 AM

How the web is opening up new markets for Blair

Blair’s two web sites are attracting customers 15 years younger than Blair’s traditional customers, the head of Blair’s EC operation told the eTail conference. Its clearance section is also creating shopping excitement and driving average tickets higher.

Apparel retailer Blair Corp., whose mid-priced merchandise has been targeted primarily at older, middle-income consumers, is attracting a new audience and creating larger average purchases by its web presence, Jeff Parnell, vice president and general manager of Blair’s e-commerce operation, told the eTail 2003 conference in Palm Springs, CA, today.

Parnell said an extensive affiliate marketing network in conjunction with Performics Inc. is attracting younger customers at an acquisition cost one-third of what Blair has typically experienced. Blair’s tradition customers have an average age of 65 while the web customer’s average age is 50, he said. “Our core demographic is not the web’s dream demo, but we are proving that the web can be successful in that demo even as we use it to attract new customers,” Parnell said. “We serve the World War II generation, but we’re using e-commerce to get into the Baby Boomer crowd.”

Further, Parnell said that the clearance section of Blair.com is boosting average tickets. “We drive a lot of traffic to the site with the clearance center,” he said. “There was a great deal of concern whether our clearance section would cannibalize the full price items. But our average order is higher online than it is offline. And that’s because people come to the site for clearance and then get into a shopping mood. Nothing gets you into the shopping mood better than a red (sale) sign.”

Blair had $580 million in sales last year. While final numbers haven’t been reported yet, the web accounted for just over 10% of sales in the first three quarters. If that holds, Blair will have done an estimated $60 million in web sales last year, a significant increase over the $2.5 million it experienced in 2000, its first year on the web, and nearly double the previous year’s $35 million. Parnell says Blair acquired 96,000 new customers in 2001 via the web and expects to report extremely good growth in new customers in 2002. “Our use of e-commerce is all about growth,” he said.

In fact, it’s so much about growth that the company no longer thinks in terms of one channel cannibalizing another, he reported. “We have outlawed the use of the word cannibalization in our company,” he said “With the web, we leverage the customers that we have but the key to our success online is bringing new customers into the fold. We (the e-commerce division of Blair) are the engine of multi-channel retailing.”

Part of Blair’s strategy to attract younger consumers has been the launch of women’s apparel site CrossingPointe.com. It features more fashion-forward merchandise promoted by actress Jane Seymour. “It`s a spin-off that appeals to the more aspirational and more fashion forward demographic,” he said. “We want to achieve the same credibility with Baby Boomers that we have with the World War II generation:”

Parnell stressed, however, that while Blair likes the web as a way to attract new customers, it also designed its web site to be easy for older consumers to navigate. To that end, the site features reproductions of catalog pages that consumers can flip through just like they’re looking through a catalog. “The design of the web site mimics the catalog,” he said. “It’s a bridge to the catalog and becomes an interactive catalog.”

Blair plans to further streamline web site usability with the installation of search and browse technology from EasyAsk Inc. That technology produces search results, but also sorts the results in such a way so consumers can browse by different criteria if the search results didn’t pop up what they were looking for.


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