FASHIONMALL, ITURF.COM JOIN FORCES

Byline: Valerie Seckler

NEW YORK — The Internet is starting to rival politics as a maker of unlikely matches.
A case in point: Fashionmall.com and iTurf Inc. The otherwise competitive Net players are expected to announce today that they have formed a joint venture calling for Fashionmall.com, a fashion e-commerce and content portal, to redesign and manage the shopping destination at iTurf.com, a content, community and e-commerce portal aimed at teens and young adults.
Fashionmall.com, which has been live online since 1995, has been busy redesigning the “Shop” page at iTurf.com as a mall that will feature e-tailers beyond the handful of iTurf-controlled shops now on the Web site — Delias; droog; discountdomain and TSI Soccer — and include a number of online stores that also are Fashionmall.com tenants.
The new mall, which will cater to iTurf.com’s traditional teen and young adult target, is slated to open this afternoon with a lineup of roughly 40 new e-commerce links with fashion brands and e-tailers. They include Bobbi Brown Essentials, Dollhouse, Phat Farm, Triple Five Soul, HOOKT, PacSun, Wetseal, Alloy Online, Tommy Hilfiger, Steve Madden, Esprit, Lucky Brand Jeans, Quicksilver/Roxy, Sephora.com, beautyjungle.com, Eve.com, anthropologie.com and Skechers.
In addition, Fashionmall will advise iTurf on a range of issues, from the selection of tenants to the merchandising of various online stores. ITurf will retain veto power over any such recommendations.
It’s part of a strategy developed by Fashionmall this spring to develop third-party services, such as online property management and e-mail marketing, as a complement to its own portal, which enables e-commerce.
“This is the first project where we’re property managers for another company,” Ben Narasin, chief executive officer of Fashionmall.com Inc., told WWD exclusively. “We are working on getting the shopping page done and plan to go live Tuesday.
“We’re using the holiday to figure out if there’s a [viable] long-term business model in off-site property management,” Narasin explained. “We’re focusing on various vertical portals. We’d like to do some deals in the beauty industry,” he said, noting that Fashionmall’s beauty section is one of the Web site’s most productive areas.
As manager of the iTurf shopping page, Fashionmall will charge for click-throughs its own tenants receive when users have entered those Web sites via new links established at iTurf. Fashionmall will manage and administer the charges for those click-throughs, and share the click-through fees with iTurf according to an arrangement the companies’ executives did not disclose.
The idea sprung from recent conversations between the two parties as they tried to determine how to leverage both iTurf’s customer traffic and Fashionmall’s expertise managing online malls. The deal with iTurf materialized, Narasin related, after a pitch to win over the teen portal as a client turned into a pitch to manage a new mall area that they were originally developing themselves.
The iTurf network often leads the list of customer traffic at Net destinations that e-tail apparel, pulling approximately 3.3 million unique visitors in August, for example, according to Web ratings agency Media Metrix. That put iTurf’s customer traffic for the month atop a list of 28 apparel e-tailers, where it was followed by JCPenney.com, pulling about 2.9 million unique visitors in August; BlueLight.com, 2.2 million users; and Target.com, with 1.9 million visitors. But much of that iTurf traffic heads for the network’s content channels, which include the flagship site, iTurf.com; gurl.com; theSpark.com; SparkNotes.com, and ontap.com, aimed at teenage boys and young men.
In contrast, Fashionmall, which had pulled around 200,000 unique visitors per month for much of the spring and summer, did not make Media Metrix’s monthly ratings for August as it failed to pull at least 200,000 different users, the benchmark for a monthly listing by the agency.
“I see it as a way to leverage traffic for our merchant partners,” Narasin said of the venture with iTurf. “ITurf retains veto power over issues like merchandising, or who can be an anchor tenant, but they realize they need to take on outside merchants. We pull people to our site more by selling fashion; they pull more on their lifestyle content and community.”
Narasin estimated there is roughly a 40 percent overlap in the age and gender of customers of Fashionmall and iTurf, with iTurf’s clients generally younger.
“We have a large community online and we know there’s an opportunity to lead them to shops where they’re going to buy things,” said Aurelian Lis, chief operating officer of commerce at iTurf, which, like Fashionmall, is based here. “By branching out beyond the company’s brands, we can build credibility as an [online] mall destination. We know a lot about teens, and they know a lot about selling fashion online.”
Lis declined to disclose the financial performance of iTurf’s e-commerce component, but did say the Shop’s average transaction ranged between $60 and $90, depending on the season.
For the six months ended July 29, the iTurf network’s losses widened to $19.6 million from $2 million in the prior-year period, due to higher labor and advertising costs, despite a threefold increase in sales, which totaled $18.7 million versus $5.6 million in the first half of 1999.

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