BLUEFLY’S UPSCALE MAKEOVER

Byline: Valerie Seckler

NEW YORK — Tell him “luxury off-pricer” sounds like an oxymoron, and fashion e-tailer Jonathan Morris, executive vice president of off-pricer Bluefly.com, laughs and nods his head, acknowledging the concept rings true.
Nonetheless, it’s a newly identified upscale, fashion-forward consumer — Bluefly’s best customer — the 2 1/2-year-old publicly held pure-play is targeting with a Web site just redesigned to appeal to this affluent, thirtysomething shopper. The new ‘Net destination is slated to go live by week’s end with richer, deeper blue-toned backgrounds, sleeker type faces and icons redone to denote more luxurious surroundings in the virtual store.
“Discounts are a value proposition for us, but it’s not the value proposition at Bluefly,” Morris said Thursday during an exclusive pre-tour of the new Web site. The project, including consumer research that drove the decision to redesign, was executed in-house for a cost of around $40,000, according to Marty Keane, Bluefly’s vice president of product development, who joined Morris for an interview in the fashion district headquarters of the dot-com, which has expanded to 90 employees since it opened shop in 1998. It aims to add another 10 to 15 people this year, in technology, product development and marketing.
With the intensified effort to woo its most loyal customers, Bluefly is following in the virtual footsteps of luxe pure-play Ashford.com, which sharpened its marketing focus and reallocated its ad budget last year, after it identified its core customer. Money-losing, publicly held e-tailers like Bluefly and Ashford, of course, are under more intense pressure to return a profit to investors this year than their privately owned competitors. In Nasdaq trading Thursday, shares of Bluefly, which have ranged as high as $8 in the past 52 weeks, gave up 6 cents to close at $1.24, while shares of Ashford, which peaked at $6.56 during the past 12 months, eased 2 cents to conclude the session at 51 cents. (The financial markets were closed on April 13 in observance of Good Friday.)
Bluefly’s bid to appeal to its best customers with a richer Web design and shopping experience was based on a handful of focus groups and an e-mail survey of 30,000 Bluefly users, including purchasers and nonpurchasers, that was concluded last summer. The picture of Bluefly’s users that emerged, Morris recalled, was unexpected.
“I was surprised we were getting a high-end, forward customer,” he admitted, “but I was not surprised 80 percent of our users are women or that 75 percent of our purchasers are women, because that mirrors trends in traditional retail.” Bluefly’s e-mail study surveyed both purchasers and nonpurchasers among the site’s users.
Most importantly, Bluefly found that its most loyal customer is a woman in her early to mid-30s, with household income of $75,000 annually, who tends to live in urban areas, reads fashion magazines, such as Vogue and In Style, and is shopping for leading-edge looks.
“In our survey of 30,000 users, we found that 10 percent of our best customers use the site daily; 50 percent of them use it weekly, and 75 percent of the group visit us monthly,” Morris said about those shoppers who have made purchases at Bluefly.com. “Also, 69 percent of nonpurchasers coming to the site visit at least once a month.”
Besides the deep blue hues, version 3.0 of Bluefly — previously relaunched in July 1999 — features a landing pad with larger product images, plus a fresh section called New@Bluefly, designed to appeal to the company’s primary purchasers. Not surprisingly, Bluefly has learned that its best customers are also the ones most interested in shopping the e-tail site’s newest arrivals. The New@Bluefly feature will be updated daily, as new stock comes in, according to Morris.
Like the landing pad, the main pages, or entries to the Web site’s women’s, men’s, children’s, house and gifts categories, display larger images than earlier editions of Bluefly and are placed on fields of white, set off by sky blue backgrounds. The lighter shades and bigger images make the product pop.
While the turf on Bluefly’s landing pad is divided into square and rectangular blocks that call Mondrian to mind, the main pages for the e-tailer’s merchandise categories are split vertically, in thirds, a Web design trend that has caught on recently in fashion portals, including one now being developed for the Fashion Institute of Technology by London-based interactive creative agency Deepend NY.
The broader design sensibility of the off-price Web site is spacious, sophisticated and streamlined, in contrast to its previous playfulness. But the new version reprises Bluefly’s retro-yet-modern flavor, a signature style it has extended to its ads — and one that has helped the brand to register with cybershoppers. Bluefly, a leader in meshing pieces of fashion content and commerce since going live in September 1998, has strengthened that point of view with the landing pad’s New@Bluefly feature, which follows users to the main page of the women’s area. It appears there on the left-hand column, atop a list of Great Deals, both of which are intended as alternatives to conventional search engines. The Great Deals are displayed by category or style: Super Sweater, Hot Legs, Casual Cool, Ebony & Ivory, and Clearance@Bluefly. The midsection of the women’s page offers the de rigueur search engines, driven by category and designer, and a Trends@Bluefly section, while the right-hand column highlights Hot Items.
Within the Trends@Bluefly area, Bluefly is tying in its off-line ads and promotions with its merchandise offer. For the Web site’s relaunch this week, for instance, the dot-com is spotlighting its “jetset@bluefly” campaign, whose tag line tells users “first class fashion, coach class prices” await them in-site, while posting links to the women’s, men’s and house areas.
“Our strongest appeal is to customers who are younger, on average, than those in traditional off-price stores,” Morris concluded, “and we are relaunching the site in hopes of better serving them.”