Charming Shoppes, Inc., based in Bensalem, PA., operates more than 2,200 women's specialty apparel stores in 48 states under the names Lane Bryant, Fashion Bug, Fashion Bug Plus, and Catherines Plus Sizes. Despite this massive brick-and-mortar presence, the company’s stores have only been online for a short period of time. We talked with Robin Baskin, V.P. Internet Marketing, Charming Interactive, about how she is approaching the online space and what issues she struggles with in moving online.
Meet Robin at the iMedia Brand Summit, September 21 – 24, in Tamaya, New Mexico.
iMedia Connection: What’s one of the most successful online or integrated campaigns your company has executed recently, and what made it successful?
Baskin: The brands we have online are fairly new to the ecommerce world, so anything we’ve done hasn’t been up that long. But in comparing everything we’ve done, I would say our affiliate marketing programs are the most successful. They are performing the strongest in terms of generating revenue.
iMedia Connection: What does your company have planned in order to approach the interactive space in different and unique ways?
Baskin: We’ve been testing different programs for just a limited time now, revisiting those that have proven successful along with testing new things as well. We’ll be increasing the number of search-based programs we have, adding Trusted Feed inclusions and comparative shopping engine programs to the mix.
In terms of unique approaches, Charming Shoppes’ will be leveraging its market place position of offering the plus-size woman three distinct brands to choose from. In August 2003 we will be launching a new plus-size fashion and lifestyle magazine and magazine Website.
iMedia Connection: What are the vexing issues facing your company and online advertising/marketing, in general?
Baskin: Privacy is number one -- how you use data is vexing for everyone; there’s a lot of gray area there with regard to respecting privacy and still finding ways to reach our customer. Second, determining what online advertising tactics will make the most impact with our customer and yield the greatest financial return. Third, we’re always trying to figure out how our customers incorporate the Web into their lives. And finally, understanding cross-channel behaviors and to what degree our Websites impact the brick-and-mortar store business are still elusive answers we’re trying to figure out.
iMedia Connection: How have your goals in the online world changed from last year to this year?
Baskin: Last year, we only had one brand ecommerce-enabled; it was our initial entry into the online arena and online advertising was truly new. We were testing only. Now we’re at a place at which I have to formulate plans that will be responsible for helping the sites achieve their sales goals. My approach is to look at what we’ve done, and focus on what’s worked the best. The planning and execution of marketing efforts is an iterative process for me.
iMedia Connection: Being that online advertising is such a new process for you, did it contribute to your company's overall sales goals last year?
Baskin: No, it was more for learning purposes to understand which programs were worthy of rolling out on a grander scale.
iMedia Connection: Does your company plan on increasing its spending on interactive media, and when do you expect interactive to take a larger share of the total marketing budget?
Baskin: Compared to last year, yes we’ve increased. I anticipate increasing even further if it’s warranted but the online spend will never approach the size of the marketing budget for the chain.
iMedia Connection: How do you perceive rich media? Have you used it in campaigns? Do you think that the benefits make up for the cost?
Baskin: We don’t incorporate rich media into our advertising. We do not think of our consumer as a high-powered user. We kept that in mind when we designed our Websites as well, designing them for the lowest common denominator of user. I don’t think exotic delivery of messages or site design is worthwhile for us. We want to make it easy for our customers.
iMedia Connection: How do you evaluate different sites for media placement?
Baskin: My customer is a niche within a niche and reaching such an audience is tricky. My criteria for selecting properties includes a reasonable assessment that my audience is there, asking what conversion numbers can I expect from this property and can the placement be optimized or cancelled during the campaign depending on its performance.
iMedia Connection: How can online marketing mature to overcome corporate reluctance?
Baskin: By continuing to prove its contribution to sales with a lot less risk than most offline programs. My affiliate programs were very helpful in demonstrating that a lot of the online spend is really a cost of the sale. It is also important to point out to one’s organization that online efforts have tremendous chain benefit by acquiring new customers and driving offline sales.
iMedia Connection: What knowledge can you impart to traditional advertisers that may be hesitant to enter into the online space?
Baskin: First, to be considered a legitimate player, people expect you have a Website. Consumers are online and they will want to shop their channel of choice when it’s convenient for them. A lot of money will be left on the table if you don’t give your consumers that opportunity of choice. Second I would always tell anyone who is multi-channel and thinking about bringing their brand online that their customer experience better be seamless. And finally the online space is not for the squeamish!