Q&A: Bill Bass, president, Charming Direct division, Charming Shoppes

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Bill Bass, Charming Direct
Bill Bass, Charming Direct

Bill Bass, president of the Charming Direct division of Charming Shoppes, discusses the retailer's digital tactics.

Q: In what ways do you customize the shopping experience online?

A: We built a product called Fashion Genius that enables women to, in less than three minutes, answer questions that let us know your body shape, how your weight's distributed, and your style preference, so we can go in and select clothing recommendations. Being able to personalize that shopping experience is like providing a personal shopper. That's what we're trying to do 
with Fashion Genius.

Q: Can you also personalize your marketing in this way?

A: If you think about a Web store, you can drive people to your store or you can take it out to them. You can do that through email. If a new product comes in, you can take it out to them. The email is personalized for you just for that new product. When you talk about direct marketing, traditionally you had direct mail pieces and then email pieces that tried to drive people into a store or you'd have a catalog. The Internet is a hybrid of the two and allows all sorts of opportunity to take personalization to the next level.

Q: Do you currently engage in personalized print?

A: Not yet. You can't personalize engagement until you know what it is that's going to personalize the communication. Fashion Genius will help us get to that point.

Q: What are your views on mobile and social commerce? Will e-commerce sites always be the destination for online shoppers?

A: Tablets and iPads will have a huge impact on online shopping. There's an experience you can build on tablets that's better than the experience you get can on a website. On a smartphone, it's not as clear how big an impact that's going to have. If you're selling replenishment things and if you're a location-based business, smartphones will be important. When you start talking about apparel, the form factor is too small.

Q: How about social? 

A: Social has been great for customer service, but no one has yet found social to be great for sales. You get a lot of people coming up with bogus metrics. They say they got a million "likes." How valuable is a like?

Q: Do you think it will ultimately drive sales?

A: No. It does not matter for sales. Could that change in the future? Maybe. But people don't go into social sites to shop; they go there to hang with their friends. Everyone is trying to stick advertisements there, but people don't like that.

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