July 30, 2008, 12:00 AM

Web fortunes head in different directions for Cymax Stores and Wilsons Leather

While leather goods retailer Wilsons has decided to discontinue web sales to focus on its mall stores, home furnishings retailer Cymax Stores is building out its web strategy with plans for as many as 200 online stores by the end of this year.

Cymax Stores Inc. and Wilsons The Leather Experts are two retailers with opposing fortunes in e-commerce. Cymax, a web-only niche home furnishings and electronics retailer, has grown from about 30 to 112 niche web stores in the past year. Wilsons Leather, a retail chain specializing in garments and accessories, always has been a store-focused company, but in July the company walked away from e-commerce altogether.

The two companies’ web experiences are products of their marketing strategies. Wilsons has been a mall-based leather goods retailer while Cymax was born and raised online. Wilsons has had a tougher time across all channels as it searches for its place in retailing and has crafted a new plan to focus on “studio” stores in malls, presumably narrowing product choices along the way.

By December, Cymax could be operating as many as 200 online stores. Sales in 2008 also are forecast to rise by about 38% to $45 million from $32.5 million. Since June Cymax has launched seven new niche sites aimed at buyers of patio furniture.

Cymax recently updated its site search application from Mercado to include more attribute-based search functionality and added customer reviews technology from PowerReviews Inc.

Cymax, based in Vancouver, British Colombia, sells most of its merchandise in the U.S. But with a new Canadian site, Cymax has increased sales from Canadian shoppers from about $50,000 per month to between $300,000 and $400,000, says Cymax CEO Arash Fasihi.

Wilsons, by contrast, has closed the book on its web sales and 116 outlet stores by selling all related assets for $22.3 million to AM Retail Group Inc., a subsidiary of G-III Apparel Group Ltd.

The sale is part of Wilsons’ stated strategy to obtain capital for the launch of its new mall accessories “studio” store concept in its remaining 100 mall stores. Wilsons plans to change its name to PreVu Inc.

Wilsons reported e-commerce revenue of $7 million for 2007, up by 6.5% from about $6.6 million in the prior year.


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