LIZ TAKES BIG STEP INTO E-COMMERCE WITH ELISABETH.COM

Byline: Valerie Seckler

NEW YORK — Fashion powerhouse Liz Claiborne is staking a bigger claim for cybershoppers.
The Seventh Avenue giant today is expected to announce plans to go live, in the fourth quarter, with Elisabeth.com, a full-price, e-commerce site aimed at serving the plus-size customer.
The site is being developed by Claiborne in a strategic joint venture with Chelsea Interactive, a recently formed e-commerce enabler. It will be accessible to Internet users starting Nov. 1 at elisabeth.com as well as through a link at lizclaiborne .com, which will continue as the company’s information site.
Chelsea Interactive, an affiliate of Chelsea GCA Realty — whose properties include outlet malls such as Woodbury Common — has been up and running since January, self-financed with an investment of $14 million to date, according to David Bloom, chairman and chief executive officer of the parent company.
Besides its venture with Claiborne, Chelsea Interactive has just redesigned and relaunched Maidenform’s online store, at maidenform .com, and implemented its e-commerce technology at cole-haan.com, the Web site of the prestige footwear brand that is owned by Nike Inc.
Through a strategic partnership with e-business consultant Proxicom Inc., Chelsea Interactive is providing the brands it works with the technology to operate a direct-to-consumer online store, plus back-end operations, including order fulfillment and customer service.
“This has been in the works for three years,” Bloom said Tuesday when asked of the genesis of Chelsea Interactive. “It represents a natural evolution of our relationships with various brands. Because of the nature of the outlet business — brands selling direct to consumers — there are similar issues as those on the Internet side of the apparel business.”
The Elisabeth dot-com venture marks Claiborne’s second move to mount a transactional Web site.
Claiborne, with annual sales of $2.8 billion, has been involved with e-commerce for the Lucky Brand denim label since acquiring it in June 1999. That project is estimated to produce sales of approximately $1 million this year, Paul R. Charron, chairman and chief executive officer at Liz Claiborne Inc., told WWD Tuesday.
“We’ve chosen to go live with Elisabeth as it is targeted at a consumer who has told us she is both predisposed to shopping online and underserved at the brick-and-mortar stores,” Charron said, recounting results of the company’s market research. “Compared with the Liz Claiborne consumer, the plus-size woman is underserved. With the launch of this Web site, this consumer can shop for Elisabeth merchandise in department stores, in specialty stores or from home.
“In addition, we recognize there’s a tremendous amount of learning that will take place as we navigate this journey with elisabeth.com — particularly, what works for the consumer online. It is not enough,” he emphasized, “to participate in the Internet vicariously, through our department store partners, like a macys.com.
“There is a clear sense on our part that the [Internet] medium will be powerful,” Charron noted. “Elisabeth.com creates the opportunity for us to learn about what may or may not have applicability for the rest of the brand portfolio. I think we’re going to learn a great deal.”
He said, however, that the company has “no plans for additional expansion online at this time.”
Claiborne’s lineup of labels includes: Crazy Horse, Curve, Dana Buchman, Emma James, First Issue, Laundry by Shelli Segal, Liz Claiborne, Russ, Sigrid Olsen and Villager for women; the Claiborne men’s collection, and Elisabeth and Lucky Brand. In addition, Liz Claiborne Inc. holds the exclusive, long-term license to produce and sell men’s and women’s collections of DKNY Jeans and DKNY Active, as well as CITY DKNY better women’s sportswear in the Western Hemisphere. The company also has the exclusive license to make women’s wear under the Kenneth Cole New York, Unlisted.com and Reaction Kenneth Cole brands.
Terms of the venture between Claiborne and Chelsea Interactive were not disclosed. Charron did say, however, that Liz Claiborne owns the Internet address at elisabeth.com, while Chelsea owns the technology.
Elisabeth.com’s interactive features will include a virtual closet in which previous purchases are archived for reference during future shopping trips, real-time assistance via online chats and store finders that will provide shoppers with the names of department stores where they can purchase additional merchandise under the brand. The site will also offer fashion trends and information geared to the interests of plus-size women.
Elisabeth.com will be supported by a national advertising campaign this fall, promotions at the company’s Liz Claiborne and Elisabeth stores, and on Claiborne’s billboard in Times Square.
“We’ve been working on this for about six months,” Charron said of Claiborne’s new e-commerce initiative. “For the past 18 months or so, we’ve been getting about one business-to-consumer Internet proposal per week, plus two or three business-to-business plans. It got to the point that we’ve split the effort to review those projects between two executives, Al Shapiro, our senior vice president of marketing, who’s looking at the B2C proposals, and John Thompson, senior vice president of service systems and logistics, who’s considering the B2B plans.”
Looking ahead, Charron said, “Our vision is to be where our consumers shop. To be responsive to today’s consumers who want to purchase products anywhere at any time — we need to understand firsthand the dynamic between the shopper and the Internet.
“We just don’t know yet how the consumer is going to vote with her eyeballs and clicker,” Charron continued. “We’re going to go where she wants to go.”

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