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E-Tales: Notes From the E-commerce Front

As other luxury retailers built huge online businesses, Barneys seemed to be napping on a Jonathan Adler pillow.

BARNEYS' BOOM: As other luxury retailers built huge online businesses, Barneys seemed to be napping on a Jonathan Adler pillow. Its online offering was small, and the simplistic navigation and limited photos seemed more suited to a minor boutique than an important and influential retailer.

The problems weren't merely cosmetic. The company's homegrown software, left over from previous owner Jones Apparel Group Inc., wasn't reliable and couldn't handle the site's growing traffic. Some customers placed orders only to receive an e-mail weeks later saying the item was out of stock. Meanwhile, the item still appeared to be available at the online store.

Last week, Barneys completed a move to e-commerce software Demandware and Vcommerce. (Jones' Nine West also signed on with Demandware, whose other clients include House of Fraser and Timberland.)

The site has many more items for sale and is easier to use, with improved search, checkout and drop-down menus that display merchandise by designer, color and silhouette. Barneys' merchants can change the artwork on the site any time by themselves, and the software will work with new content and applications Barneys might develop. Meanwhile, Demandware, a hosted application service, handles basics such as uptime and security. "We're growing at a much faster rate than we expected," said Barneys vice president of e-commerce Larry Promisel, who came over two years ago from Bluefly and Coach.

Expect more fun and funny editorial content soon, as well as other improvements in 2009. The executive team and owner Istithmar believe in the importance of the Web and growing Barneys' online business, Promisel said. "We're still in the infant stages of our development."

SUGARY SHOPPING STRATEGY: Blog publisher Sugar Inc. said Wednesday it plans to acquire StarBrand Media Inc., a Los Angeles-based company that facilitates e-commerce of clothes and decor featured in movies and TV. Sugar's most popular blog, PopSugar, has more than 2 million unique visitors a month, according to Quantcast, and focuses on celebrity gossip. Sugar is venture-backed, a rarity in the blog world. Since receiving $5 million from Sequoia Capital in 2006, the San Francisco-based company has acquired Shopstyle, a search engine for fashion, and fashion blog network Coutorture. StarBrand will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Sugar, and will launch a new destination site that will include editorial and search from Sugar and ShopStyle, the company said.
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