CHARMING’S WEB PLAY
Byline: Valerie Seckler
NEW YORK — Few Internet players could claim to have an embarrassment of riches at this point in the medium’s hyper-maturation curve, but that’s precisely the position in which Charming Shoppes currently finds itself.
The retailer of moderate-priced junior, misses’ and plus-size apparel this month agreed to acquire Lane Bryant from The Limited Inc., for $335 million in cash and stock, which will bring it the Web’s busiest plus-size apparel e-commerce site, LaneBryant.com, with the deal’s closing, expected next month. (LaneBryant.com typically draws about 450,000 visitors per month, reaching 0.5 percent of Web users.) That pact followed Charming’s purchase in April of hardware and software assets from plus-size pure-play Alight.com.
This spring, Charming started laying plans to implement the Alight assets as the infrastructure for an updated Catherine’s Web site, where it will transact commerce and communicate with customers of its Catherine’s plus-size brand. Charming liked the display tools, live chat features, ease of navigation — the nuts-and-bolts of the Alight technology, noted Gayle Coolick, director of investor relations at the Bensalem, Pa.-based retailer.
With the deal for Lane Bryant, however, Charming executives are reviewing whether to simply relaunch the Catherine’s online site, or perhaps develop a plus-size portal that would comprise both Catherine’s and Lane Bryant, Coolick acknowledged. “We have plans to populate Catherine’s to a site based on the [new technology] and we see lots of opportunities to develop e-commerce for a plus-plus-size customer,” Coolick said, referring to women who wear sizes larger than 28. “Now that we’re acquiring Lane Bryant, we absolutely want to develop that into a major e-commerce opportunity,” she offered. “Fashion Bug Plus is aimed at the lower-moderate-income gal, who’s not going to pay $3.50 to have a blouse shipped, so we don’t plan e-commerce for that brand.”
The timetable for the relaunch is up in the air. “It’s a priority for us, but we’ve just signed the biggest deal in the company’s history, and that could rearrange the timing,” Coolick said. “We hope to relaunch within the next 12 months.”