Catalog and Offline Store Boost Holiday Sales for

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While many Internet retailers struggled this holiday season,, originally a pure-play e-tailer, added a catalog and brick-and-mortar store to its business and saw its fourth-quarter sales jump 115 percent from a year ago.

The privately held, multichannel retailer of African-American products would not release sales figures late last week but said its holiday catalog, which was delivered in early November to 250,000 people, pulled in a 1 percent conversion rate.

"We started as a pure-play e-tailer, and if we had only done Internet retailing, we wouldn't have had that sort of increase," said Gwen Richardson, co-founder and Web site manager at Cushcity, Houston. "With our catalog and our store, we were able to grow faster because we were reaching offline people."

The company added the sales channels to complement its online marketing, among other reasons, Richardson said. Cushcity, which delivers a permission-based biweekly e-mail newsletter to approximately 6,000 people, now cross-promotes its products and new channels.

The catalog, for instance, served as a tool for Cushcity to generate traffic for the bricks-and-mortar store, Richardson said. While the company has not offered any special promotions or discounted offers, she said store traffic has increased.

Cushcity also uses the e-mail newsletter to promote the Houston store -- which opened in September -- and to offer its online members a free catalog, Richardson said. However, while the newsletter is informational and can be used to promote Cushcity's other sales channels, she said, its primary goal is to market the company's more than 11,000 items online.

"Cushcity's sole purpose in life is [to] move products," Richardson said. "And we've always utilized e-mail marketing, from day one, even before the experts said it was the thing to do."

To build its offline database, meanwhile, Cushcity began renting lists early last year soon after launching its first catalog, Richardson said. The company, which mostly targets African-American women who are 25 years old and older with annual household incomes of more than $30,000, rented lists from Essence magazine and Black Enterprise, she said.

Richardson said Cushcity rented those lists because Essence's subscription base is made up of mostly women and Black Enterprise targets higher-income blacks. The bulk of Cushcity's offline database, in fact, came from Essence's list, she said.

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