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Betting on e-commerce pays off for Ashley Stewart

October 1, 2015 12:18 PM
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When women’s plus-size apparel retailer Ashley Stewart filed for bankruptcy in March 2014—the second time in just over three years—a major problem the company faced was the fact that technologically it lagged far behind the competition, CEO James Rhee says.

“We didn’t have Wi-Fi at company headquarters,” he recalls. “The business model was obviously broken. But the brand, to me, was great.”

Part of fixing the problem involved putting a greater focus on the company’s online business.

“Everyone works on e-comm,” he says. “Everyone works on the brand. It’s 100% you service this woman, period, whatever way she wants it.”

Rhee and his team re-platformed the retail chain’s site with technology from Demandware. The site was built using responsive design techniques so that it adapts to the device on the consumer is using to view it. The retail chain, No. 732 in the Internet Retailer 2015 Second 500 Guide, began working with Demandware on its new site about six months before filing for bankruptcy.

But it wasn’t just the site itself that needed retooling. Rhee says he and his team focused on leveraging Ashley Stewart’s sizable social media presence—its Facebook page boasts more than 425,000 likes—to better get to know its customers.

“It’s like investing in a friendship,” he says. “There are many, many women in plus who never were exposed to the brand, and they’re finding it for the first time through social and online. We’re confident that our overall social strategy is generating a significant amount of loyalty with our brand. That’s what we’re doing with social.”

Those efforts are starting to pay dividends.

17 months removed from that bankruptcy filing, Rhee says online sales are up 80% year over year and now account for about a third of the company’s overall sales, though he declined to provide a dollar figure.

Mobile accounts for “north of 30%” of all online sales, and an Ashley Stewart mobile app is in the works. But Rhee says the key is to do the app right, not simply get it done.

“We are spending a fair bit of time studying what kind of app [the shopper] would want,” he says. “We are seeking balanced growth. We look at it less by channel. We look at it holistically saying, ‘are we doing a good job for her.’”

 

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