QUICK DELIVERY FOR ARMANI, URBANFETCH

Byline: Valerie Seckler

NEW YORK — If the turbulent Sixties spurred the spread of fast food and disposable fashions, could the time-pressed consumers of the new millennium make fast fashion a trend with equal staying power?
A|X Armani Exchange and Urbanfetch Inc. are betting on it.
Those two parties on Wednesday announced an exclusive partnership that marks a first in fashion online: same-day delivery of apparel to the doors of Manhattan cybershoppers’ ordering at armaniexchange.com — which now can be reached through a link at urbanfetch.com, as well.
It struck many Web watchers as a natural when quick-delivery sites such as Urbanfetch and rival Kozmo.com began delivering convenience items, like a dozen bagels or a new CD, in under an hour. But same-day delivery of the latest from A|X Armani Exchange?
The concept may not be so far-fetched, in the view of at least one Internet observer.
“I like it,” said Ken Cassar, retail analyst at Internet consultant Jupiter Communications, in referring to the partnership deal. “I think immediacy is a big dark horse for online retailers.
“Everybody’s thinking it’s great for ice cream and videos,” Cassar noted, “but I think it may be relevant in a broader swath of categories.”
Here’s how it works at armaniexchange.com: As of Wednesday, any item purchased on the Web site by 1 p.m., for delivery to a location in Manhattan, was set to be delivered between 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Urbanfetch is fulfilling those orders by making a daily pickup of goods that have been ordered at armaniexchange.com from the A|X warehouse in Secaucus, N.J., and subsequently dropping them off at Urbanfetch’s main distribution center, at 34th Street and 11th Avenue. From there, the merchandise is delivered to customers’ doors. Cybershoppers pay the same $5 fee for the service as they ordinarily would for any delivery of goods bought at armaniexchange.com.
The deal was struck in lightning-fast, Internet fashion, following a phone call from A|X to Urbanfetch and a mere one-hour meeting this month. “Quite a few people in our office used Urbanfetch and thought it was a cool local company,” said Lee Byrd, senior vice president of business operations at A|X Armani Exchange, in referring to the Web site that went live here in October 1999 and in London this June.
“We met with them, and the deal happened after brief negotiations.”
Terms of the partnership were not disclosed.
A|X Armani Exchange has been live online since fall 1995. The initial Web site was marketing driven, but did sell A|X T-shirts and baseball caps. The brand’s full-blown e-commerce effort got underway in February, as noted, with the launch of a redesigned site at armaniexchange.com. A|X has four stores in the tri-state metropolitan area — two in Manhattan, one in Westchester and one on Long Island — and a fifth location is slated to be reopened in Short Hills, N.J., in October.
“We thought this was a service we can offer our customers,” Byrd said. “The whole goal is to enhance the customer experience. I would guess more fashion items than basics will sell. My feeling is that it will appeal to the impulse purchaser who seeks out products at Urbanfetch and wants, say, a bathing suit for a hot weekend, or an outfit for a date after work.”
That’s not all that A|X has up its virtual sleeve.
Plans are now in the works, Byrd said, to launch in August or September a service that would enable Internet users to order a “very limited” assortment of A|X merchandise via wireless devices, such as cell phones or personal digital assistants, like a Palm Pilot.
“That would be our next significant step [online],” Byrd noted. “The wireless business may be basics driven until the technology develops further because it’s a text-based ordering experience as of now.”
Prices on A|X goods range from T-shirts at $19.50 to outerwear at $178, with much of the brand’s business focused in the $48-$78 range commanded by the label’s knits and sweaters. “So I think most of our orders [via Urbanfetch] will be for $68-$78 type of items,” Byrd estimated.
The deal with Urbanfetch brings A|X broader exposure in the New York metropolitan area along with the chance to improve the experience of its online customers. Also, the partnership offers Urbanfetch the chance to achieve economies of scale by fulfilling orders for a third party whose upscale demographics are similar to its own.
“We believe that online and offline retailers increasingly will want to provide more rapid fulfillment of their customers’ orders to achieve a competitive advantage,” said Ross L. Stevens, chairman, chief executive officer and president of Urbanfetch Inc. “So, we’ve realized we should make it a priority to provide retailers with third-party fulfillment and marketing services.
“Urbanfetch has 70,000 customers in New York City that A|X now can focus on,” he added.
In Stevens’s view, the deliveries of A|X fashions should be “clockwork….We deliver 98 percent of our one-hour orders on time, so we expect this same-day deal to be very doable.”
A typical customer of Urbanfetch orders from the Web site twice a month, Stevens said, with the average order coming to around $45 and comprising a few items from various categories.
Those goods include electronics, gifts, videos, books, food, drugstore merchandise and prestige beauty products, through a deal forged May 10 with Sephora.com.
Another benefit accruing to Urbanfetch from the partnership with A|X, Stevens said, is the prestige of being associated with an Armani brand. Plus, he said, “We tend to have similar demographics, an urban customer who likes to buy high-end products. We sell a lot of DVD players and Palm Pilots and prestige beauty items from Sephora.com.
“We will be searching for more fashion labels to connect with,” Stevens concluded.

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