There’s a new trend on the rise that seems to be taking the retail and print media industries by storm – a number of magazines and publications are partnering with retailers to launch co-sponsored e-commerce sites. With both print magazines and retail stores struggling to navigate today’s murky economy and discover new ways to modify their business models in order to maintain profit, these partnerships, which are actually turning out to be quite successful, couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. Take, for example, CLAD, the latest venture from Hearst Publications and JC Penney. “In this marketing partnership, Esquire Magazine will curate items alongside CLAD’s buying team to offer customers the perfect merchandise mix along with a satisfying user experience,” reads the company’s site. “Promotional sections in Esquire’s print edition and website will help raise awareness, driving traffic to and engagement for Cladmen.com.” We caught up with CLAD president Will Swillie to talk more about the project and discover a few keys that make an online retail website successful.
WATM: Tell us a bit about CLAD and how the partnership with Esquire came about. Why is JC Penney Corp pursuing a high end customer? Who are the buyers? How much input do Esquire editors have on merchandise assortment?
Swillie: CLAD is a full price, comprehensive online retailer designed exclusively for men. The target age for CLAD is 24 – 54 years old. CLAD features coordinated looks from some of the best designers in menswear and offers practical style advice from the authority on men’s style, Esquire.
CLAD is a part on the newly formed growth brands division of the JC Penney Company, Inc. The purpose of growth brands is to research and develop business strategies to fill white space (or need) in the market place and to explore new retail models. Last summer growth brands launched the Foundry Big and Tall Supply company and in November launched both cladmen.com and gifting grace.com. Like CLAD both the Foundry and Gifting Grace are strategic, researched-based, and insight-driven initiatives that identified a need in an underserved market.
Through a relationship with Hearst magazines, CLAD has partnered with Esquire magazine to create a unique partnership leveraging a new retail concept we call “editorial-commerce.” The partnership combines the industry-leading retail infrastructure of JC Penney Company, Inc. with the consumer expertise and reach of Hearst magazines. In the partnership, Esquire fills two primary roles: promotional and editorial. Four times a year, Esquire will produce a 16-page insert called “the CLAD Report” to run in the magazine and on Esquire.com. The CLAD Report interprets Esquire’s take on fashion trends through the clothing and accessories available on CLAD. Esquire is also helping to create the editorial environment of CLAD, both via advice and instruction that resides in CLAD’s “damn good advice” section. Esquire is also making “Esquire picks” throughout the site. Esquire.com links from its style blog directly to CLAD .
WATM: What social media does CLAD use to engage your customers and how do you use it ?
Swillie: CLAD kicked off an aggressive digital based marketing campaign at launch. We worked with Ft. Worth-based prospect for digital media and with Dallas based imc2 for creative media design. CLAD has a very active Facebook and Twitter campaign as well as a daily blog in the “damn good advice” section of the website. In February of 2012, CLAD will launch a “Fit for Style” sweepstakes working with e-prize and buddy media to execute.
WATM: What online marketing strategies do you currently engage in?
Swillie: Our objective is to “find Phil” (our target customer) and to “find Sarah” our secondary target. Our digital market plan has included banner advertisement, pictela units and site takeovers for well thought out and targeted websites. Outside of our partnership with Esquire, CLAD will also be launching several strategic partnerships in FY2012 to compliment the digital marketing efforts that we initiated at launch.
WATM: Are there any new or emerging technologies that you are planning to employ?
Swillie: CLAD will introduce the “tapeless tailor” in the spring of 2012 which will be brand new technology. The tapeless tailor will be proprietary technology that will help men find their perfect fit. No other tool like it exists today!
WATM: Customer service- what are some unique service features that CLAD offers that sets the site apart?
Swillie: CLAD offers free shipping every day. We also have dedicated customer service agents who are available via phone and live chat to assist with any of our customers’ needs. In addition, we are all about surprise and delight and often include “extra” product in customers packages.
WATM: What are the 5 most important things for an online retailer to be successful, in your opinion, and how are you achieving these?
1. You must offer the best brands but also maintain a point of view. CLAD offers curated products from some of the best men’s brands in the world. We do the editing for you!
2. You must be able to help guys shop online. CLAD offers looks and advice from Esquire on how to shop and put together the right “look.”
3. Your site must be easy to use and easy to navigate. We kept this in mind throughout the entire process of the CLAD site design. I believe we achieved our mission!
4. The check out process must be as short as possible and allow clients to make purchases (and return again) with a few steps as possible. CLAD has a very easy, one page, check out process.
5. You must maintain a consistent voice and personality online to invoke the human element. This can be easily lost in an online environment. CLAD prides itself on not taking ourselves too seriously. We speak with authority but we never talk down to our clients.
WATM: Let’s talk about the growing interdependence of content and commerce. Content is more important than ever when it comes to e-commerce, especially in the menswear world. What’s your opinion on this and why do you think it’s so? What works and what doesn’t when it comes to selling to men?
Swillie: Men want to shop online – they just don’t always know how to do so. Content tied to product educates. An educated consumer is more likely to purchase. Esquire believes our partnership is a natural extension of what magazines do – create desire in readers. CLAD now provides customers a way to purchase as soon as they read or learn about new products or brands. Instead of just reading about products and brands, customers can now move to the purchase phase faster and easier than ever before – without ever leaving their computer.
WATM: What are some of the challenges you face as an e-tailer that bricks and mortar stores don’t have And how do you deal with them?
Swillie: The human interaction will never be the same online as it is in a traditional brick and mortar store. What we can offer is a convenient way to learn about new products and brands without having to go anywhere.
WATM: What have you learned from your launch that surprised you?
Swillie: Guys in Middle America are just as hungry for fashion as the guys on the East Coast and on the West Coast.
WATM: I read this quote in WWD recently : “Accessibility and understandability will be critical to this seamless cross-channel integration. More personalized, customized two-way dialogues will become important to this digital, mobile customer generation.” What’s your opinion and how are you addressing the needs of a highly educated mobile consumer?
Swillie: See above on customer service.
WATM: What have been some strong sellers so far, and what do you expect to be good for S/S12?
Swillie: Shoes have been a big surprise as well as watches. Both are performing extremely well.