Ghurka: Later Is Better for Holiday Push

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The Ghurka Ltd., a maker of luxury leather goods and accessories, this week sent its first holiday e-mail since it opened its online store in October 1999 to select names in its customer database.


The Norwalk, CT, marketer's Ghurka.com division said it had no intention of bombarding customers with numerous e-mails in the run-up to the holidays. But there was another reason for the late push: Catch customers in a message lull.


"There was a rash of e-mails, and they've kind of subsided and we just noticed them subsiding [last week], and we said, 'Let's wait a little bit, so that we're not one of 50 e-mails and we're one of five,' " said Marley Hodgson III, president of Ghurka.com.


The company sent e-mails to customers whose average order size was in the $100 to $150 range -- 7,000 names, or 65 percent of the online database.


"We didn't want to inundate a lot of people," Hodgson said. "That's something we really try to be careful about."


Ghurka also had to keep in mind its customer profile: people with an average annual household income of $200,000 who do not like to be pestered.


"The other thing is, you don't find a lot of high-end companies inundating people with stuff, sending them a lot of junk," Hodgson said. "Pick your battles, sort your list well and try to be as personalized as you can."


That philosophy is reflected in Ghurka.com's holiday e-mail, signed off by the 28-year-old Hodgson, son of the company founder.


The message promotes the company's holiday gift page, a compilation of best-selling Ghurka products at www.ghurka.com. These range from $110 hip flasks and $1,495 Garrison business bags for men to $195 jewelry rolls and $295 Adrian handbags for women.


For consumers who cannot decide what to give family or friends, there are gift certificates ranging from $50 to $2,500. GiftCertificates.com, New York, handles the back end.


"I would be happy, ecstatic, if we had more than 150 or 170 click throughs to purchases," Hodgson said.


But he does expect sales to be a tad soft this holiday season, in keeping with the general sentiment expressed recently by retailers suffering from tightened consumer spending.


"It's starting to change and this has been experienced in retail," he said. "The average order has been getting a little bit lower."


Hodgson expects the average online order size to be $360 this holiday season and $397 for the entire year.


By contrast, the average order size at Ghurka's retail stores is $470 per year.


Ghurka sells products at three company stores in New York, San Francisco and Troy, MI, plus 120 authorized retailers.


Though Ghurka.com claims profitability, a major hindrance is the inability of consumers to touch and feel products.


To overcome this hurdle, Ghurka engaged LivePerson Inc., a New York application service provider that allows for real-time sales and customer service for online marketers through live online chats.


LivePerson's technology, a customer interaction suite comprising chat, e-mail and frequently asked questions, now connects online consumers with Ghurka.com's customer service representatives.


"When you look at luxury goods, these are expensive, high-touch type of products, so it's really important to be able to bring the customer online in live [time]," said Robert LoCascio, president/CEO of LivePerson.


Results have been encouraging since LivePerson's implementation eight months ago.


"Our conversion rate has jumped from 5 percent to 7.5 percent," Hodgson said. "It really has opened up a channel to answer people's questions, which is exactly what we wanted. We get a lot less e-mails now and our customer base has grown ... because they're not leaving their question and not coming back."

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