How can e-commerce help traditional brick-and-mortar stores, and vice versa?

A panel — moderated by Julian Chu, general manager, online retailing for Puma North America, and consisting of Ken Weil, Camuto Group’s senior vice president, e-commerce, and Ronit Weinberg, Diane von Furstenberg’s vice president, e-commerce and online marketing — tackled the idea of cross-channeling, and how online and offline retail can complement each other and enhance the brand experience.

For traditional wholesale companies, moving into direct retail through their Web sites can be an adjustment.

Camuto Group manufactures shoes for labels like Tory Burch, Lucky Brand and BCBG, holds the master license for Jessica Simpson and owns the Vince Camuto brand, named for its founder. In addition to wholesaling several lines, the company retails the Jessica Simpson and Vince Camuto brands online.

“There is always that question whether you are stealing the sale from your retail partners,” Weil noted, adding the firm never wishes to undercut its retail partners, and therefore chooses not to flush out excess inventory at lowered price points. “We believe that by having a retail site, we are enhancing and building the brand. Actually, we are educating customers and encouraging them so that when they go into the stores, they are able to have a better connection with the brands and drive the retail level.”

Weinberg cited cross-channeling and cross-technology as key challenges today, which includes “working with our off-line stores and having them embrace the technology out there to grow their customer base,” she said.

Each channel can benefit from the other. Weinberg cited the example of von Furstenberg’s recent sunglasses launch. For the introduction, the company created a video, which was then posted on its Web site and advertised on New York’s Taxi-TV network. In addition, DVF’s global stores have their own Twitter feeds and, on March 23, the company is launching an iPhone app. “We have taken into consideration how to embrace the offline consumer,” she said. The DVF app, for instance, will come with a GPS store locator and offer exclusive merchandise, including a wrap dress aptly called the App Wrap. This year, the company also hopes to integrate a system where consumers can shop online and pick up the merchandise in stores.

How to tackle e-commerce and social media in the global marketplace, and how to secure a coordinated initiative between companies and their licensed partners worldwide, also became key points in the conversation.

“As a company, regions are largely responsible for their own business but, depending on the function, there is some amount of global coordination,” Chu said. “E-commerce is one we want to have a coordinated global strategy.”

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