**Dress Barn Prepares E-Mail Push to Drive Cross-Channel Sales

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Specialty apparel retailer Dress Barn Inc. will launch its most ambitious e-commerce effort next month with an e-mail newsletter providing information on the latest news, products and offers across the 700-plus Dress Barn stores, its catalog and its Web site at www.dressbarn.com, which began selling products July 27.


"We are doing an e-mail campaign as a one-year program," said Jason P. Paskowitz, manager of e-commerce at Dress Barn, Suffern, NY. "Obviously we'll continue it after that, but we're planning it for one year at a time, and our goal is [by] October 2001 to have a quarter-million names in our list."


Dress Barn will send an estimated 100,000 e-mails to customers in the first round of the campaign. The target is budget-conscious women age 25 to 45 who need to dress professionally but may be unable to afford expensive clothing. Paskowitz said future newsletters likely would exceed 100,000.


Bigfoot Interactive, New York, designed the newsletter and will handle technical details, including delivery.


All names on the e-mail list have opted in to receive communications from the retailer, Paskowitz said. These e-mail addresses were collected from the site, in stores and by telephone for catalog orders. Names will not be drawn from rented lists, he said.


The newsletter, however, has a larger role -- to support other channels. While figures for the catalog and e-commerce sales were not disclosed, the majority of Dress Barn apparel sales come from stores nationwide. This is followed by catalogs, which drop six times a year. Each drop varies from 1.5 million to 2 million households.


"It's still early for us to tell exactly what portion of our overall business e-commerce will be," Paskowitz said. "We have every expectation that it will be a small but nevertheless profitable part of our business. I think the main goal really is [not only e-commerce] but also as a mechanism to market our brand to our customers and to offer another channel for shopping."


Launched a year ago as an information-only site, dressbarn.com first relaunched in January, followed by its transition to e-commerce in July.


"Our Web site is fully integrated," he said. "Our Web orders are transmitted directly to our fulfillment partner, Keystone Internet Services. That is a challenge for many e-commerce companies."


Dress Barn's fiscal fourth-quarter sales and net income ending July 29 were $175.7 million and $12.6 million, respectively, up from $166.7 million and $9.4 million in the same period last year.


Sales for the fiscal year ending July 29 were $656.2 million, up 8 percent from last year. Net income for the year was $36.7 million, up 24 percent over fiscal 1999.


The 38-year-old company said that though casual attire was in vogue, there was renewed interest in business career wear such as suits, dresses and blazers.


"These results were primarily from strong merchandise margins, which allowed us to offset ongoing start-up costs for our new Dress Barn catalog and e-commerce channels," Elliot S. Jaffe, chairman/CEO of Dress Barn, said in a prepared statement.


"We remain committed to these two new sales channels to help drive top-line growth, and we believe they also help drive store traffic," Jaffe said.


The Web site will play a key role in the coming days to revert online traffic to stores.


"We're going to be putting into all of our 700 stores a postcard that customers can fill out that will let them opt in to receive e-mail information about Dress Barn, and [also] as a way of thanking them for signing up for that," Paskowitz said. "We'll then be sending them by e-mail a coupon for 20 percent off of their next in-store purchase."

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