Byline: Valerie Seckler
NEW YORK — Plus-size pure-play Alight.com has changed hands — and is slashing and burning to stay aloft.
As fashion-lifestyle dot-coms slug it out for survival this summer, the 18-month-old e-tailer has been acquired by apparel industry veteran Norman Weiss — who in February 2000 sold his own plus-size Web site, Syd & Sam, to Alight, then a content-driven destination. Terms of the Alight acquisition, completed July 13, were not disclosed, but Weiss told WWD he is sole owner of the dot-com that he has purchased from RRE Ventures, a venture-capital firm based here.
While luxury online sites, among others, have been shaking out, Alight has managed to cling to the virtual vine, after revealing in March that it was in search of fresh funds. It’s aiming to differentiate by focusing on contemporary fashion brands, rather than on the basics that account for most of what’s available online in women’s sizes 12-24. Alight’s best-selling labels, Weiss said, include: One Step Up Plus, Blue Plate and pink.girl, all carried in one of the Web site’s busiest areas, its Cheap Chic boutique, merchandised with a junior-plus customer in mind, as well as Donna Ricco in dresses and Ellen Tracy in better-priced looks.
Currently, Alight, which has relocated to Woodbury, from costlier Manhattan offices, is expecting to turn a bottom-line profit in the fourth quarter, with full-year volume projected to reach $1.5 million, up from about $1 million in 2000. “It’s a lot less than the $50 million I’d envisioned at this point,” Weiss noted with a chuckle.
Perhaps he had reason to laugh.
With 336 Web sites flaming out during the first half of 2001, according to one recent study — and fewer than 30 percent of them business-to-consumer players — some Internet observers believe that last week’s bankruptcy filing by Webvan could be one of the last big casualties in the consumer sector online. So, even as analysts increasingly expect only one pure-play to survive in most e-commerce markets, a number of those still standing ought to start liking their chances.
For Alight, the path to profit appears to be one that’s becoming well trodden by dot-coms in that pursuit: scaling down infrastructure so that less volume is required to make money, a route recently taken by off-pricer Bluefly.com and luxury player Fashion500.com, for example. To that end, Weiss said, Alight:
Partnered with Yahoo, which has redesigned, and begun hosting, a newly customized shopping Web site, at alight.com, absent the content that once formed its foundation.
Terminated its endorsement deal with former spokeswoman Star Jones in April.
Renegotiated contracts to realize “more favorable terms” with some vendor partners, which now total 125.
Downsized its payroll to 12 people from 26 in April, when some software and hardware assets were sold to Charming Shoppes, and 14 former Alight employees joined Charming (see related story).
“The deal with Yahoo has enabled us to run the site without employing a massive technology team and dealing with technical hosting issues,” acknowledged Weiss, former president of better dress and sportswear maker Isabel Ardee. “It has cut out major overhead.” Overall, he said, the moves have dampened the dot-com’s burn rate by “several hundreds of thousands of dollars per month.”
In addition to the cost-cutting campaign, Alight appears to be gaining some shopping traction, converting 1.3 percent of its browsers into buyers this year, Weiss related, versus just 0.6 percent of them in the comparable year-ago period. “Our customers told us, ‘We want clothes,’ in the sense the most clicked-on pages were in commerce, not content,” he said.
Alight’s competitors for customers of plus-size fashion online are formidable, including Liz Claiborne’s Elisabeth.com, launched last November; LaneBryant.com, which consistently charts on WWD’s monthly Traffic Report of most-visited apparel e-commerce sites and Plussize.com, a commerce and community portal that went live last month with 35 merchant partners, like Lands’ End, Spiegel, Nordstrom and Chadwicks, and turnstylz.com, a site aimed at teens. In the tangled Web of Internet alliances, however, Alight.com carries some items from Claiborne’s Elisabeth collection, while Plussize has partnered with Alight, in the portal’s shopping area.
Nonetheless, Weiss, 49, is feeling bullish, stating that the privately held firm has “enough cash to operate for the foreseeable future,” but declining to specify. He hopes to achieve three consecutive profitable quarters, before returning to the capital markets for new financing. “I am 100 percent confident we will achieve profit in the fourth quarter,” Weiss offered. “We can run the business based on its own cash flow from that point forward.”
“I’m so confident [profit] is around the corner, I didn’t bring in partners,” he added. “I decided to roll the dice and make the investment myself.