Bombay Co. Works to Spark Business, Traffic to Its Site

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Michelle Ballauf has two issues to confront immediately as the new Internet director at The Bombay Co. Inc.: increase offline customer awareness of the site and build the online database almost from scratch.


"Basically, what we're trying to do is increase awareness of, and traffic to, the site, Bombayco.com, and increase awareness of the fact that we've got a site," she said. "We did do some focus groups, and less than 10 percent of our store customers knew that we had a Web site." Seventy percent of shoppers at Bombayco.com are new customers.


Bombay Co., Fort Worth, TX, introduced a third-generation site - a $1 million investment - last October to prepare for the 1999 holiday season. The site featured three times the merchandise of its previous incarnation, offering many of the products sold in company catalogs and stores.


Still, that did little to raise its profile as an online destination for home furnishings. Hiring Ballauf away from apparel marketer VF Corp., Greensboro, NC, was a major corrective measure. As marketing manager for e-commerce, Ballauf helped VF build its online database from zero to more than 125,000 qualified users.


For Bombayco.com, Ballauf has conjured a sweepstakes for growing the database and an online-only discount.


The sweepstakes is the first of many marketing gambits Ballauf will spearhead in the months ahead to promote Bombay Co. online. Called Register to Win, the effort offers the winner $2,500 worth of furniture, prints and accessories sold by the company. Running Aug. 7 through Sept. 6, the sweepstakes requires participants to furnish their name, street and e-mail address and answer a few questions.


"The key to the sweepstakes is really to ask questions at the bottom of the registration form, which classifies that customer," she said.


As another shopping incentive, new Bombayco.com customers through September are entitled to a $50 discount on their first purchase.


"We're going to be advertising this on Excite, BizRate, coolshopping.com," Ballauf said. "We're looking for strategic partners, probably eight to 10 places to advertise. We're doing a lot of testing right now with a lot of different types of advertising options."


Measures being considered for before and during the holiday push include a Bombay-to-go sale, Ballauf said, where gifts bought online are wrapped and can be engraved. Also, Bombay Co. stores will plug the site, and the Web address will gain mention in credit card stuffers.


The company expects that these efforts not only will increase site traffic but also will boost its database of online customers, which contains fewer than 5,000 e-mail addresses.


Another problem, Ballauf said, is the bombayco.com URL. "The current Web address that we have is not always top of mind, so we are looking at other URLs that will connect with the consumer better," she said.


One such URL is bombaycompany.com, owned by Collie Brown, a software engineer from Mount Vernon, NY, who registered it in January. He said he frequently receives e-mail meant for Bombay Co.


"Right now we're in the early stages of setting up our business, and we're pretty much unknown and these people [Bombay Co.] are known," Brown said. "Frankly, I was a bit surprised they haven't contacted me. I guess I would if I were in their place."


Ballauf said she has instructed her legal department to look into acquiring the bombaycompany.com address.
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