Bill Bass’ Lessons Learned in Cross-Channel Retailing

Ecommerce is not just another store, according to Bill Bass, president of direct for apparel/food gifts merchant Charming Shoppes. Nor is ecommerce a cheaper marketing channel.

Bass, who’s also worked for Forrester Research, as well as apparel catalog/web marketers Lands’ End and Fair Indigo, has 15 years of multichannel retailing experience. He shared some of his insights from his in his Sept. 13 keynote at’s summit in Boston.

• Organization structure matters. Two schools of thought on this is having the ecommerce unit be completely independent or completely embedded in the organization. Neither works, said Bass. “You want it somewhere in the middle but skewed toward independent.

More important, the ecommerce division must report directly to the CEO, Bass said. “So much change is going on,” and only the CEO can give the clearance needed to move quickly, he noted.

• Focus, focus, focus. Don’t be distracted by shiny objects—or bogus metrics. Put your efforts and resources toward the things that make your website a winner: the things that make your customers’ lives easier, Bass said. The two things you should focus on are search and fast checkout.

As for metrics, revenue, expenses and gross profit are the only ones that matter, he said. Customer engagement is an overrated metric. Users may be spending a lot of time on your site because they’re confused and can’t find what they need—not because they’re engaged, Bass pointed out.

• Take advantage of new capabilities (without losing focus, however). Bass revealed Charming Shoppes Fashion Genius site feature, which he described as “Google for clothes.” Based on customer data from surveys Fashion Genius will help users find clothes that will work with their body types.

The technology of the adaptive surveys made Fashion Genius possible. Other attempts to collect customer size measurements “were hard and wrong.” Bass said. “It needed to be easy and right.”

As for the future, merchants should be looking at tablet computers. “The shopping experience on an iPad is empirically better than on a website,” he said. “Mobile matters depending on your product line; iPads matter for everyone.”