Fashion E-Mails Use Mall Concept

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Sombasa Media, a marketing agency for online merchants, recently debuted a free, weekly e-mail newsletter that doubles as a style consultant and miniature clothing mall.

Launched this month, StyleSpeak delivers HTML presentations of whole outfits. There are versions for male and female subscribers, with each newsletter including items from different suppliers, such as a pair of Gap jeans with a Lands' End shirt and L.L. Bean sandals.

StyleSpeak is the second electronic vehicle that Sombasa, Boston, has created to bridge the gap between online consumers and e-tailers. Its flagship product, BargainDog, notifies subscribers when participating merchants have sales or special offers on products of interest to them.

BargainDog, which launched in 1999, has nearly 1 million subscribers, 66 percent of whom are female. So far, Sombasa has only promoted the StyleSpeak service to BargainDog subscribers.

David Beisel, vice president of marketing at Sombasa, declined to reveal the number of StyleSpeak subscribers. He said the service has just launched and has only a small initial customer base.

StyleSpeak should benefit from the business relationships that BargainDog has established. So far, the e-mail newsletter has partnered with more than a dozen apparel and accessory merchants, including Gap Inc., Spiegel, Lands' End and, according to Beisel. StyleSpeak gives these e-merchants another vehicle through which to promote their clothes to online consumers.

The e-mails display the clothing as part of an ensemble and in individual pieces. Each article has a link to the merchant's Web site and, in most cases, a deep link to the page where the item can be ordered. StyleSpeak does not sell any clothing -- all transactions take place on the merchants' Web sites. The online merchants then pay Sombasa per click through for any sales that the newsletter generates, Beisel said.

While its main goal is to steer consumers to its advertising partners' Web sites, StyleSpeak seeks to provide more value than simply matchmaking. The e-mail newsletter goes out every Wednesday with a new theme and information about the topic.

"They might focus on exactly what corporate casual means or what to wear to a holiday cocktail party," Beisel said. The first e-mail focused on nightlife fashion, while the second one centered on summer clothes. The participating retailers work with StyleSpeak reps to present the clothing that best matches the week's themes.

Whenever possible, each theme is presented in different style categories -- for example, "summer fun" is adapted to classic, sporty or urban looks.

"Each e-mail provides three or four different types of apparel, because we felt that people have different tastes depending on where they're going or what they're doing," Beisel said. "We want to include that in an all-encompassing e-mail."

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