By  on July 6, 2010

Ben Fischman is on the hunt for a group of addicts — shopping addicts that is.

By creating an irresistible sense of urgency and excitement, retailers can overcome the hurdles they face in trying to grow their business in light of increased competition and a sluggish economy.

“We want to drive addiction,” said Fischman, chief executive officer of Rue La La. Fischman was one of the panelists at a Fashion Group International luncheon at the New York Hilton hotel last week. “We believe great retail is exciting.”

Noting that he does nearly all his personal shopping at Amazon.com because it is convenient, when it comes to Rue La La, a members-only online shopping site, “we don’t want to be convenient. That’s boring.” In fact, he said, it’s even OK to run out of hot items on occasion. “Part of retailing is not having it in stock.”

Mindy Grossman, chief executive officer of HSN, agreed. She said she’s seeking a “Pavlovian response” from customers who just “have to have it now.” Rather than providing a predictable shopping experience, HSN’s mission is to “bring new discoveries every day. It’s about the game.”

Michael Gould, ceo of Bloomingdale’s, said the challenge for department stores is to figure out how to “move from a transactional business to a relationship business. Department stores know more about their customers than anyone and do the least with that information.”

Even though they’re limited by four walls, brick-and-mortar stores can create a sense of discovery for customers. Bloomingdale’s recently renovated main floor cosmetics department at the 59th Street flagship is a model for innovation, the panelists agreed. The store will soon be redoing its Young East Sider area on the second floor and Gould said there’s no reason the department has to be limited to apparel. “There’s not enough ‘wow,’ ” he said. “Where’s the food, where’s the jewelry?” He pointed to the company’s new store in Dubai, where the Magnolia Bakery inside the home area is doing strong business.

Grossman said HSN is planning a cross-promotion with Harrah’s Entertainment where customers can try their hand at an online game and then be entered into a contest to win a trip to HSN Live in Vegas, a shopping spree at Harrah’s Planet Hollywood casino in Las Vegas on Aug. 14 and 15. And on June 30, the company will debut The Liza Collection, a line of limited edition apparel and jewelry inspired by Liza Minnelli and featuring an appearance by the entertainer.

Gould said that while Bloomingdale’s online business is experiencing double-digit gains in excess of the 34 percent posted by its parent, Macy’s Inc., in the first quarter, the company has to be careful not to have too many balls in the air. He admitted that brick-and-mortar stores are “not as nimble” as online competitors, but said shoppers that use multiple channels spend 3.3 times as much as those who shop a single channel.

All the panelists agreed that a bright spot for future growth is mobile technology. “In the past six months, the amount of transactions we’ve seen has been jaw-dropping,” said Fischman.

The panel discussion was moderated by consultant Robin Lewis, who said consumers are “forcing us to change their rules of engagement. If they do permit you into their space, you better give them a compelling experience.”

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