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Tommy Bahama’s E-Commerce, a Global Portal to the Brand

In early July, the brand took a big leap forward in its global expansion strategy by launching e-commerce in 108 countries.

Tommy Bahama's Web site.

In early July, Tommy Bahama took a big leap forward in its global expansion strategy by launching e-commerce in 108 countries.

This story first appeared in the July 18, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

 

The company partnered in the initiative with FiftyOne Global Ecommerce, which specializes in expanding retailers’ e-commerce capabilities to overseas markets. Previously, Tommy Bahama delivered orders only to the U.S. and Canada. But in just the past couple of weeks, orders have flowed in from Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Germany, Ireland, Japan and Norway, to name a few.

 

The move complements an offline international expansion plan that saw new Tommy Bahama stores open in Macau and Singapore this year, with additional units slated for Hong Kong, Tokyo and other markets.

 

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“We know through our analytics that there is an appetite out there online for Tommy Bahama,” said Lisa Atwood, senior vice president of e-commerce at the Seattle-based company. FiftyOne’s technology and service gives international customers tailored landing pages and automatic local currency conversions at checkout, including all landed cost calculations for each market. Tommy Bahama is charging a flat $19.99 delivery fee to any of the 108 countries.

 

The international online foray comes as e-commerce emerges as one of the biggest growth areas for the brand, since its online store launched in October 2007. Online sales contributed 8 percent of Tommy Bahama’s total sales of $452.2 million in fiscal 2011. (Brick-and-mortar stores contributed 47 percent of total sales and restaurants 12 percent, with the remainder coming from wholesale operations.)

 

At any one time, there are about 6,000 Tommy Bahama styles and color options available on the e-commerce site.

 

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“Unlike retail, we have unlimited real estate online so we tend to buy the breadth of every color available in a shirt, whereas a [traditional] store might have a different philosophy,” said Atwood. “Online customers tend to want to hear about new arrivals and see a lot of variety in colors. The new arrivals are always one of the most viewed assortments on our site.”

 

The e-commerce division encompasses about 35 employees, segmented into planning and merchandising, creative, strategy and product management, development and production teams. All e-tail orders are fulfilled through Tommy Bahama’s distribution facility in Auburn, Wash., the same center that services the company’s own stores and wholesale accounts.

 

Last July, Tommy Bahama launched a ratings and review feature for each product online, using a scale of one to five pineapples. The tool has some risks for the brand, as consumers can write about what they like as well as dislike, about a particular product — but it gives designers and merchandisers valuable feedback. What’s more, shoppers who click and read the reviews are 240 percent more likely to make a purchase than those who don’t, said Atwood. The review feature was developed in partnership with Bazaarvoice, a leading provider of social media applications for retail sites.

 

“Our biggest challenge is how fast technology is moving,” she added of the myriad elements that could be incorporated into the site. “We’re constantly chasing that and prioritizing what is appropriate for the brand, making sure we get the appropriate return on investment and maintaining a focused road map of what we want to accomplish.”

 

E-mail marketing is a key driver of traffic to the site. The company sends out two to three e-mails a week to various subsets of its database, a cadence that increases during the holidays and before Father’s Day — which is known at Tommy Bahama as “a second Christmas.”

 

“Whatever product category is featured in the e-mail becomes the number-one item that day,” noted Atwood. Lifestyle-oriented e-mails, without a direct sales pitch, are sent out occasionally — such as quarterly messages with seasonal cocktail recipes, which dovetail with the brand’s relaxation ethos.
Also driving traffic is search engine marketing, which is handled by Elite SEM on behalf of Tommy Bahama. Key search terms that the brand has found effective to bid for include men’s big and tall apparel categories and women’s swimwear.

 

The Web site sells all categories of Tommy Bahama merchandise, including licensed product like beach chairs, coolers and housewares. A few licensed categories like indoor furniture, indoor and outdoor fabrics, ceiling fans and indoor rugs, are not sold directly on the site but are linked to licensee sites.

 

Apart from its commerce component, the Tommy Bahama site also serves as a portal to the brand and the brand experience — a key element of Tommy Bahama’s evocative island-inspired appeal.

 

“There’s a shop and we have to hit a sales forecast and I have to manage [profit and loss], but the site goes beyond just the store. It’s an experience,” explained Atwood. “We entertain and engage the customer who wants to live the life of the brand. It’s all-encompassing and we describe the site as a window to the brand.”

 

To that end, the Web site is turned over completely every month: every page on the site is updated and refreshed. The Web site is the largest user of Tommy Bahama’s creative assets and imagery.

 

The Tommy Bahama lifestyle and brand image are promoted on a section of the site called “Live the Life,” which encourages customers to “Make life one long weekend.” On those pages, browsers can find instructional videos on hula dancing, recipes from the Tommy Bahama restaurants and video diaries of the brand’s photo shoots in sunny locales like Belize and Miami. There’s also an official Tommy Bahama “rumologist,” Jack Terry, who pens a blog about the tropical liquor.

 

Marketing promotions run on the site, enhancing the brand’s off-duty appeal. This past Father’s Day, customers could enter a contest by sending in their favorite remembrances and photos of Major League Baseball teams that are part of Tommy Bahama’s MLB collection.

 

Describing the integrated approach and interactive components, Atwood said, “Our end goal is to engage our guests and inspire them to come shop.”