July 8, 2009, 12:00 AM

The acquisition of Tween gives Dress Barn a chance to try on e-commerce

With its proposed acquisition of Tween Brands Inc., Dress Barn Inc. has an excellent chance to dress up its limited e-commerce program. But analysts also say Dress Barn must move quickly and correctly to capitalize on any Internet opportunity.

With its acquisition of Tween Brands Inc., Dress Barn Inc. has a golden opportunity to dress up its limited e-commerce program.

On June 25, Dress Barn, which sells clothing and accessories aimed at budget-conscious career women in their 30s through 50s, announced a deal to acquire Tween, No. 267 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, in a stock transaction valued at $157 million. The deal is expected to close by the fourth quarter. Under the terms of the agreement, the new entity will have combined sales of about $2.4 billion, a network of 2,465 stores and, more importantly for Dress Barn, an e-commerce operation.

Dress Barn doesn’t currently sell online. On Dressbarn.com shoppers can order gift cards for use in stores or find a nearby location. Dress Barn also doesn’t have an e-commerce program for Maurice`s, a line of apparel and accessories aimed at women 17 to 34 that live in small markets with fewer than 100,000 residents. But with the acquisition of Tween, which already operates LimitedToo.com and ShopJustice.com, Dress Barn now has an advanced e-commerce program and a chance to sell online to a new audience of young shoppers, says one retail analyst.

In recent years, Tween, which generated Internet Retailer-estimated web sales of $33 million in 2008, has updated its e-commerce sites with virtual catalogs, quick-order buttons, content aimed at its youthful audience of girls 7 to 14, and community tools such as ScapeNation, which gives users opportunities to blog, download and play games, and view videos.

A company spokesman says Dress Barn is still evaluating all aspects of the acquisition, including e-commerce. But a retailing analyst says Dress Barn now has a key opportunity to take multiple brands online and appeal to a wider range of shoppers – providing the retailer does so quickly and carefully.

“Having the infrastructure already in place for e-commerce for other brands is definitely an opportunity to get rolling fast,” says Nikki Baird, managing partner at research and advisory firm Retail Systems Research LLC. “But taking advantage of Tween’s e-commerce capabilities will means leveraging Tween’s technical expertise alongside Dress Barn’s customer expertise. That could be an interesting cultural mix, to say the least.”

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