BostonProper.com Tries a Two-Month Test on for Size

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BostonProper.com, an e-commerce site for women's apparel, will begin testing a two-month, $1 million marketing campaign in April. Boston Proper, a popular women's offline cataloger, is hoping to grow its online sales from 8 percent to 20 percent by year's end by coordinating the right mix of marketing for the site.


To reach its target market of affluent women ages 35 to 50, the bulk of the spending for the test will go to print advertising in up to 25 different publications, including Elle, Town & Country and Travel & Leisure. The ads should reach a combined circulation of 27 million readers.


It will test radio by sponsoring traffic reports in a number of major metropolitan areas. "From our research and what we've heard, radio is very effective," said Skip Hartzell, executive vice president for The Mark Group, Boca Raton, FL. The Mark Group is the parent company for Boston Proper, Mark, Fore & Strike and Charles Keath.


The site is working with Yahoo, AOL and iVillage to test the effectiveness of banner ads and shopping sections within the portals. A BostonProper.com store will appear on Yahoo along with banner ads in the shopping area this week. A listing in the AOL shopping center will launch in late April and a store presence at iVillage will follow.


BostonProper.com is taking it slow having learned from other companies such as Toys 'R Us, said Hartzell. "This is a million-dollar boot strap test," he said. "We're concerned. We've never done this before so we don't know what's going to happen or how much response can we forecast. We're gearing up the call center, our customer service and our merchandise because it's important that we satisfy the customer. The long-term customer is more important than a single transaction."


To date, the site's strongest marketing tool has been a viral marketing feature it introduced when it launched its redesigned site in December. The feature allows users to click on an item and e-mail it to a friend. "You can leave a message with the item that says, 'this dress would be nice for you. Would you like it for your birthday?'" said Hartzell.


E-mail marketing has also been a useful tool since the site began using it in January. These efforts are garnering an average click-through rate of 20 percent. BostonProper.com e-mails offers and featured items to a list of 20,000 users who had given the company their e-mail addresses when they ordered via catalog. The company has also been collecting names on the site which originally launched in April.


Boston Proper will also promote the site via its catalog which will ship at the end of the month to three million consumers. The opening spread will endorse the site and its free shipping offer.


These early initiatives have earned Boston Proper a substantial new customer base. Thirty percent of the site's sales are from new customers. This surge is extremely important to the growth of the company, "rather than just trading off on sales," said Hartzell.


The site has also signed on to advertise with Women.com's "women.future" conference on April 5. The conference will be shown globally on closed circuit television and through streaming online video. BostonProper.com plans to buy commercial spots that will run in between the speaker's seminars.
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