Dress Site Is a Good Fit for Retailers and Customers

Bridal dress manufacturer Dessy Creations introduced a Web site in January that sells prom dresses directly to consumers yet keeps its retailer customers happy.

“We have a channel conflict with the Internet because we can't sell directly to consumers. We sell our products through a network of authorized, full-service shops,” said Alan Dessy, president of Dessy Creations, New York. “Selling direct means cutting out our customers.”

The company solved the conflict by allowing consumers to view styles and purchase dresses at the full retail price from the Web site. Before completing the transaction, they are presented with a list of local stores where they can pick up the dress. Once the order is complete, the dress is shipped to the store and an e-mail alert is sent to the consumer and the retailer, notifying them that the order has been placed and shipped.

The business-to-business-to-consumer plan generated $150,000 in sales last month, up 25 percent from February and up 25 percent more from January.

The site accepts all major credit cards but does not accept checks, cash or debit cards, nor can customers pay when they pick up the dress.

The average order time is three to five days, with about a one-week turnaround for the entire process, Dessy said.

Retailers receive 50 percent of the retail price of the dress, he said.

“If [retailers] were selling in a competitive market against discounters, a dress could be discounted as much as 25 percent,” Dessy said. “It's an instantly more profitable arrangement for them. There also may be customers driven to these points of distribution that otherwise would never have gone there. It's a totally incremental sale, and we're driving foot traffic into the bricks-and-mortar store.”

Dessy Creations' target customer for the site is prom-going teen-age girls in 12th grade, Dessy said. He said the company generated most of its online traffic by placing banner ads on Web sites such as Alloy.com, which targets teen-agers, and eCrush.com, a teen community site.

Dessy Creations established a community of its own on its site, providing the end customer information about proms and a forum to chat with other girls about proms, Dessy said. The company has a chat room, he said, and an e-mail newsletter it uses to send prom information.

The permission-based e-mails collected from the newsletter will be used to form a long-term relationship with the girls, Dessy said, hopefully through the time they're looking for a bridal gown.

The long-term goal of the prom campaign was to test the business-to-business-to-consumer model and eventually “apply it to our core business,” Dessy said. He expects sales to slow down next month as the buying season for prom dresses winds down.

At that point, Dessy said, the company will begin planning for a more expanded prom campaign next year, which may include a multichannel deal with Seventeen magazine.

The company also expects to expand its online business to include bridal apparel, though Dessy had no timetable.

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