Online or Off, Children's Place is the Same

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Ezra Dabah sees no reason to treat Internet customers any differently than those in his bricks-and-mortar stores.

The chairman/CEO of children's apparel and accessories chain The Children's Place, Secaucus, NJ, has designed to be a mirror image of its 293 stores nationwide.

"At least, for the immediate situation, we're focusing on making absolutely sure that the experience online is exactly the same as the store," Dabah said. "We can do different things to just prop up sales on the Internet, but how is the bricks-and-mortar customer going to feel about the fact that you go on the Internet and get more product or discounts?"

This one-size-fits-all approach is part of The Children's Place's strategy to give a seamless experience to its customers.

Window displays in The Children's Place retail stores change every two weeks so the site's home page will also be revamped every two weeks. The chain changes or adds to its product line for stores each month, and the site will move in lock-step with these changes.

More critically, the company will adjust prices in tandem. For example, The Children's Place will mark prices down for its January Monster Sale simultaneously offline and online.

"The way we set it up is dynamic, so as soon as we change our price in our stores on any SKUs, it automatically changes on the site and moves that item from, say, the full-price pages to the sale pages," Dabah said.

Also, The Children's Place won't imitate other bricks-and-mortar marketers who pamper online customers with more discounts and lower-than-offline prices.

"Our main business, of course, is bricks-and-mortar," he said, "and one day soon the online business will be substantially big and we do see that happening, but we don't see that taking over the bricks-and-mortar business. So, we have to protect that."

The Children's Place not only sells items, but designs and manufactures its casual apparel products.

To introduce its online arm to customers, The Children's Place will advertise its Web address on in-store signage, shopping bags and on tags around sales associates' necks. The company also plans store-based Web kiosks at an unspecified date. The Children's Place also offers free shipping for online purchases over $50.

Dabah hopes online sales at The Children's Place will account for up to 2 percent of total revenue, or $5 million to $7 million, next year. Sales for the public company in 1998 were $290 million, with 1999 revenue projections of $420 million.

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