June 3, 2010, 3:03 PM

Making the pieces fit

Liberty Media knows its way around online retail deal integration.

Liberty Media Corp, which owns and operates QVC.com, No. 11 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, has a good eye for acquisitions and an even keener sense for making the operation mesh once the deal is done. In the last few years, I’ve watched Liberty Media take what might seem like a series of random acquisitions, including ProFlowers.com, BuyCostumes.com, RedEnvelope.com, Bodybuilding.com and Backcountry.com, and turn the collective buying spree into a highly integrated business unit that’s delivering pretty good top-line growth. In the first quarter ended March 31, sales for Liberty Media’s acquired e-commerce companies increased 10.1% year-over-year to $268.0 million from $243.5 million. In 2009, those same integrated acquisitions grew sales 20% to $931.0 million from $776.0 million in the prior year. Sometimes when smaller web retailing companies are gobbled up by a bigger entity, the two sides don’t mesh and senior executives from the acquired company – those entrepreneurs who knew the ins and outs of selling to their niche – bide their time and when their contract is up immediately take off for the next venture. But it’s been four years since Liberty Media acquired BuyCostumes.com and founder and CEO Jalem Getz is still on the job using the big marketing base and deep resources of Liberty Media to grow his unit’s merchandising niche in costumes and costume accessories. Finding a way to make acquisitions work and get different personalities and cultures to click is a pretty important job in today’s consolidating e-commerce market. The deals are only going to intensify and the bigger players will only get bigger – witness Amazon.com’s $900 million takeover of Zappos.com last year. Liberty Media has learned what it takes to make a key acquisition, make the parts fit into a bigger organization and grow the business. That’s a lesson most other web retailers of any size have to learn as well.

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