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Jun 20, 2002
Case Study

Local Retail Chain Doubles Sales Online -- The Story of Bare Necessities

SUMMARY: When Bare Necessities, a small Northeastern chain of lingerie stores, decided to go national online, they broke all the dot-com rules. No ads in major media, no innovative site design, and absolutely no promotional efforts for Valentine's Day. Hear how they succeeded despite, or perhaps because of, their unique approach.  Highly recommended for marketers trying to integrate both online and offline marketing campaigns. (We love their idea about adding "as seen in" magazine pics to the site.) BTW: This Case Study features an invaluable rule for every Web site that advertises on the radio: Read it and obey.


Bare Necessities, which operates five lingerie stores
in Northeastern America, decided four years ago to convert its Web
site from an information-only vehicle to a full-fledged
ecommerce site.

To reach a national audience, Bare Necessities had to put a whole
new spin on the “reach out and touch someone” concept. It had to:

1. Design a way for a 35-year-old trusted retail establishment,
whose expertise centers around the highly personal and hands-on
art of bra fitting, to sell that same kind of trust on the Web.

2. Integrate a national Web site with local retail stores.

3. Make the Bare Necessities name known to Web surfers.


The management team began by devising a basic Web
strategy to sidestep pitfalls that many other national eretailers
fell into. Marketing Director Dan Sackrowitz outlines the
Company's four rules for smart online growth:

1. Not spending the big bucks right away

Some of his competitors signed expensive portal deals several
years ago when prices were sky high. Others bought lots of
magazine space. Still others bought commercial airtime on “Ally
McBeal” and the like. “We focused on what was working. We had
no pressure to get big overnight,” Sackrowitz says. “We’ve let
the company grow slowly.”

In the end, Sackowitz ended up signing an AOL deal in September
2001 after much consideration. So far, “it is working out well.
“We have creative on their lingerie page."

2. Not leaping on hot promotions for short-term gain.

Although lingerie is a “natural” for gift giving, Bare
Necessities' Web team did not focus their efforts on holiday-
centered promotional pushes.

"We didn't buy the red heart boxers and we didn't buy the
Santa boxers," says Sackrowitz. "Instead, all our time, money
and effort went toward building a better site with easier
searching and better inventory. We knew functionality would
have lasting and ongoing benefits.”

3. Being a "Second Mover" as much as possible

Instead of leaping into innovative site design and marketing
tactics that could be costly, Sackrowitz waits and watches how
other Web sites implement change. "We're waiting for someone
else to come up with something and then we'll go implement it.
We'll have the second mover advantage." In other words, he
steals smart.

4. Creating an easy, flexible content management system

Sacrowitz's development team created a content-management
system that allows him to tweak the Web site at a moment’s
notice as trends change. For example, the navigational tool bar
included “hosiery” until just recently, when the onset of
summer meant that camisoles were more in demand than stockings.

Sackrowitz also tested a wide variety of online marketing tactics
to drive traffic to the site. These included all varieties of
email marketing (broadcasts to rented lists, ezine sponsorships
and a regular HTML Email Alert to site opt-ins), an affiliate
marketing program using Linkshare, paid search engine listings
(PPC) with Overture and Google's AdWords Select, and last but not
least, buying up some two dozen misspelled versions of the URL so
folks who can not spell the name can get there anyway.

Aside from these now-classic online marketing tactics, Sackrowitz
also made the most of the brick and mortar side of the business,
testing online/offline tactics such as:

-> Downloadable coupons

Sackrowitz decided to test offering with downloadable discount
coupons online visitors could take to the stores (see link to
sample below). While some larger retailers may shy away from
downloadable coupons because of possible fraud, Sackrowitz says
there is not much of a risk for his company because there are
only five brick and mortar stores at this time.

Plus, Sackrowitz decided to run a concurrent marketing test,
running print ads with identical coupons in local newspapers.

-> Email support for in-store events

Sackrowitz has planted email address collection boxes near or
on the check out counter in each real-world store. Names
gathered in this way are added to the Web site email alerts
list with a flag showing which store they came from.

Then whenever any of the stores have a special event to
promote, Sackrowitz's email team send out a special alert to
both the names collected at that store, plus any online
shoppers who signed up for the Alerts newsletter who are in a
local zip-code.

Sackrowitz has assigned a manager to create an ongoing calendar
of in-store events for this purpose. However, the stores do
enough events that they carefully limit their email Alerts to
just the really big ones. They do not want to wear out the list
by sending Alerts too frequently.

-> The “as seen in” approach

When Bare Necessities' customer service reps told him how many
shoppers came to the site looking for lingerie they had seen or
read about in a magazine, Sackrowitz introduced a new site
section called "As Seen In" which features more than a dozen
snapshots of lingerie ads and editorial photos from major

We think this is an enormously clever tactic (carrying over
from the classic "As seen in" placards that many real-world
lingerie stores use to highlight merchandise).

-> Radio Spots

Sackrowitz tested a series of radio spots in Northeastern
cities such as Springfield and Rochester where the Company had
real-world stores. This way the store and the site could split
the cost, and possibly both get some sales.

In order to measure online results, the Web team quickly popped
up a location-specific URL which would be used on the air;
such as or

Sackrowitz carefully copywrote the on-air script to include
the "www" in front of each URL being mentioned. He explains,
"It's a radio effectiveness thing. When they hear 'www.' they
know the next thing they're about to hear is going to be a web
address. It's easier to pick up references when they hear
that. It's a subtle radio copy thing."

Once all of these online and offline campaigns drive traffic to
the site, Sackrowitz's goal is to convert as many visitors as
possible into paying buyers.

He notes this is a bit tougher for Bare Necessities than
nationally known merchants such as Macy's or Bloomingdales. He
says, "Obviously when customers come, anything you can do to let
them know they're buying from a company that's been around, with
a solid foundation, helps."

These trust-building and conversion-compelling tactics include:

a. Featuring logos from VeriSign,, Gomez
Certified and Yahoo! Shopping prominently at the bottom of each
and every page, to make sure shoppers see them no matter where
they are, and no matter what page they enter the site on (many of
the PPC links are at the product level, so those shoppers may
never see the home page).

b. Staffing the toll-free customer service line with highly
experienced reps recruited from Bare Necessities stores and from
other offline competitors such as Federated Department Stores.
These ladies really know how to pick the right bra, and love to
share their knowledge.

c. Mentioning brand names frequently and prominently to assure
buyers they are getting the same known-quality of merchandise
online that they would in a traditional retail environment.

d. Useful navigation for shoppers including "What's Hot", “buy
one, get one free” offers and a “full-figured” department, just
like in the retail shops.


Web sales now account for a full 50% total Company sales. Bare Necessities’ Web sales doubled between 2000 and
2001, and they are set to double again in 2002.

Of the email tactics used, renting lists did not produce the
desired results, and it was abandoned. However, email newsletter
sponsorships pulled varying results.

Sackrowitz says, “We did a decent amount of testing. Sometimes I'm
like 'this is a guaranteed winner!' and we didn't get much out of
it. Other times I'm like 'ok fine, do it.' I don't expect much and
we get a whole bunch of stuff. At some point, we'll probably go
back and see if we can figure that one out.”

Bare Necessities affiliate program has proven a solid success
bringing in a percent of site sales "in the high teens."
Sackrowitz notes that only a few of his almost 20,000 affiliates
are responsible for the lions' share of sales. He says, "You know
the 80/20 rule? In affiliate programs it's usually more of a
90/10 rule."

Radio spots were a definite winner, pulling both store and site
sales, however the site sales were not strong enough to cover the
costs of radio alone without a brick and mortar store in that
location. Sackrowitz will consider continuing these spots,
but only in the Northeast.

Fascinatingly, Sackrowitz says the joint online/offline discount
coupon campaign proved the Web rules over print. "We had a lot
more Web coupons being redeemed at stores than newspaper ads

Sackrowitz continues to analyze whether Web sales are more
profitable than retail sales. “With stores, you have overhead,
including rent. But if you put a store in a good location, you
also have instant traffic,” he says. “On the Web, just showing up
isn’t going to do it for you. The Web world is more marketing
intensive.” Bare Necessities is set to open between four and six
new stores within the next year, although locations are under

Sackrowitz continues to be content to follow the pack when it
comes to site tweaking, going so far as to say even the shopping
cart remains status quo. “Early on, other Web sites had the
feeling that ‘if we build it, they will come,’” he explains. Ever
frugal with his company’s marketing dollars, he adds, “We take the
opposite stance: ‘If they come, we will build it.’”
See Also:

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