Shopping for Designer Fashions at Discount Prices: Bluefly.com and SmartBargains.com

Browsing through a fashion magazine, an average woman is bombarded with advertising for items such as clothing, make-up, and accessories, particularly handbags. This bombardment in magazines is further expanded to include other media outlets like newspapers, television, and more recently, the Internet. Many women see these photographs and advertisements of television and movie stars carrying expensive handbags and purses and there is an urge to have what they have. It seems recently that purses have become a status symbol for women of a certain class and these purses can be expensive, with many purses costing over $1,000 easily. However, it is clear that most women cannot afford to makes these purchases regularly. Even if they can, wouldn’t they want to have a chance to save some money? How can women buy beautiful purses without completely bankrupting themselves? Bluefly.com and SmartBargains.com are two websites that have come to the rescue. These two websites provide individuals with the ability to purchase these brand names, top of the line purses at reduced prices, sometimes at up to 90% off the retail price. Bluefly and Smart Bargains are websites that have been in business for several years and have found their niche market, provide good customer service, display a great variety of products, and have succeeded when other e-commerce websites have failed.

Through MRI+ Mediamark Reporter, I was able to gain some insight into women who are willing to spend over $100 on a purse or handbag. In order to look at Bluefly and SmartBargains, it is necessary to examine the individuals who may decide to use these sites to make a purchase of a purse. Women’s age seems to be an important factor in the decision to make a purchase. Women between the ages of 25 and 34 have the highest index level for purchasing purses over $100 (MRI+ Mediamark, 2005). This may be attributed to women this age being in the workforce and earning their own income. MRI+ Mediamark (2005) reported that many of these women had graduated from college and completed post graduate studies and were employed in professional or management positions. These women also have household incomes that exceed over $75,000 and have homes valued at $500,000 or more. It would make sense that women who are earning a greater amount of money would have the ability to make a purchase of an expensive handbag. The majority of these women lived in the Northeast and the top media markets. Incomes tend to be higher in the Northeast part of the country due to the high cost of living. There is not a great disparity in women’s marital status whether they are single, married or engaged. Women who are Caucasian or Asian are spending more money on purses as well. These women are heavy users of the Internet and tend to read newspapers and magazines at high numbers. The types of television channels that these women like to watch include Bloomberg, E! Entertainment Television, Style, MTV, and the Home Shopping Network among others. Harper’s Bazaar, US Weekly, W, and Marie Claire are some of the popular magazines among women in this group (MRI, 2005). As a reader of some of these magazines, I can vouch that there is some advertising or photographs of expensive purses in these publications. Just from examining this demographic information, one can see that there is a market out there for discount websites such as Bluefly and SmartBargains.

According to the publication, Advertising Age, Bluefly.com was started by E. Kenneth Sieff in the fall of 1998 (Snyder, 1999). Bluefly is a publicly traded company and in 2004 had over $43.8 millions dollars in sales, a growth of 15.6% from 2003 (Krippel, 2005). Bluefly buys designer items directly from fashion houses and then sells these items to consumers (Snyder, 1999). I read about Bluefly in the New York Times Sunday Styles section earlier this year and checked it out and was amazed at the selection and the savings offered. For the purposes of this paper, I conducted an in-depth investigation of Bluefly’s content, design, and services offered in order to examine whether it would fit my target market of women willing to spend over $100 on a purse.

Looking at Bluefly’s home page, I can see that all of the content presented fits on a maximized computer screen. There is a clear navigation system with categories labeled: men, women, house, clearance, shopping bag, and my account. On the bottom of the web page, it gives Bluefly’s contact information, order status, shipping and returns, company information, a 90 day money back guarantee policy (which includes shipping costs), a security and privacy policy, the site index, and copyright and disclaimer information. There is also a link to Flypaper, which is Bluefly’s own blog. I found Flypaper to be a really neat tool. It has links to stories about fashion, whether it is fashion in television, magazines, newspapers, and new fashion lines. If you enjoy shopping for clothes, shoes, and accessories, Flypaper is great way to read articles about the fashion industry and various products. An individual is able to sort by topic, such as Quote of the Day or Surfacing Trends. It appears from the archives that Flypaper launched on Bluefly in March 2005.

On Bluefly, individuals are able to shop by designer, new arrivals, and categories, in this case, handbags. For handbags, one can shop by types of bags, color, and by brand. I counted nearly 50 different brands including: Gucci, Burberry, Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi, Prada, and Kate Spade. You are also able to shop by price which range from $25 to over $1,000. For the purposes of this paper, I looked at handbags over $100 and over. Looking at Kate Spade purses, I could see from the page what kind of Kate Spade bags are available, as well as color and they tended to be more economical with the priciest bag under $200 on Bluefly. The most expensive bags are from Prada, Fendi, and Gucci, all coming in at over $1,000. The selection is quite astounding. You can view up to 72 handbags on a page. I decided to place a fake order with Bluefly in order to see how the process works. This included everything up to completing the order. I chose a Prada black nylon shopper tote, originally priced $585 marked down to $399, a savings of 32%. Bluefly offers a flat rate for ground shipping in which I would receive my package in 5 to 7 business days. A 3 Day Delivery costs $10.95, 2 Day Delivery is $15.95, and Next Day Delivery is $24.95. The shipping options are clearly displayed and the payment forms are clear. You are able to enter a code if you have a Bluefly gift certificate, or any promotional codes. Bluefly also gives you a phone number to contact them with any questions as well as their address. Overall, I found browsing Bluefly to be a pleasant experience. The site presentation is clean and consistent. The graphics load quickly and the lack of pop-up ads is much appreciated. The site seems user-friendly and gives plenty information for a customer. If I were shopping for a purse, I would definitely consider shopping on Bluefly.

SmartBargains.com is based in Boston and launched in October, 2000 (Duff, 2004). It is a privately held company with $92.2 million in sales in 2004, a growth of 21.8% from 2003 (Krippel, 2005). SmartBargains is the exclusive online source for Loehmann’s which is a national, off-price retailer which sells designer apparel (Business Wire, 2005, para 3). The first thing I noticed about SmartBargains was that it had far more content on its home page than Bluefly. SmartBargains sells a greater variety of items than Bluefly and instead of classifying these items under “Home” like Bluefly, SmartBargains breaks down all the items by category. Just from looking at the home page, I learned that if a person spends more than $150 or more, shipping is free. Taxes are excluded from the total and this is for standard shipping only. The Bargain Alert will send to a customer via email secret savings and promotions. Also SmartBargains has a great promotion that runs on Monday-Friday from 12pm until 3pm known as lunchtime specials. The navigation system for SmartBargains is clear, with multiple links to find the item you are looking for. SmartBargains also displays pertinent customer service information at the bottom of the home page including information on shipping, returns, your account information, new arrivals, and the site’s privacy policy and terms and conditions.

I navigated over to Women’s Accessories: Handbags and Totes. You are able to search by brand, style, and price range, like Bluefly. SmartBargains has many of the same brands as Bluefly such as Prada, Kate Spade, and Fendi, however, they also have Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs. The style selection is also similar to Bluefly and searching by price is a good feature as well. You are also able to search by Total Percentage off an item, some as high as 90%. SmartBargains also lets the customer know how many items are left of a particular product. This may be a way to entice a customer to make an immediate purchase.

Like on Bluefly, I decided to make a fake purchase on SmartBargains. This is when I found a flaw with the SmartBargains website. I clicked on Prada under the Brand menu and it took me back to the Women’s Accessories home page. I decided to search by price instead, and once again, it took me back to the Women’s Accessories home page. This is a large and seemingly frustrating problem for a consumer. If a person cannot find what they are looking for, they could leave the site altogether and go to another webpage, like Bluefly. I also did not enjoy the frequent pop-up ads and slow loading graphics, which was quite different from Bluefly. After some maneuvering, I finally managed to get to a place to make a purchase. I selected a Roberto Cavalli Metallic Studded Hobo Bag, retail price $347, marked down to $279.99, a savings of 21%. There were only four of these bags remaining for purchase. After taking a good 30 seconds to load, I found SmartBargains listed some valuable product information including product details and about Roberto Cavalli himself. I qualified for the free shipping option. I entered my personal information and chose the free shipping. The Next Day Delivery was $21.85, 2 Day Delivery $17.85, and 3 Day Express, $15.15. The 2 Day and 3 Day options were more expensive than Bluefly, but the Next Day option was cheaper than Bluefly. You are also able to fill in any coupon information at this time as well. SmartBargains also has a no payment plan for 90 days on purchases over $150. This may be useful if a woman wanted to try out a purse and then return it, all for free, because of the free shipping option. After looking closely at SmartBargains, I found the site to have some great deals on items, but there is clearly a problem with the internal navigation of the site. This is a problem that SmartBargains would be wise to address because it may cost them in money or customers.

Bluefly and Smart Bargains both provide a way for consumers to save money on high priced purses. The women that I described from the MediaMark Reporter would be wise to check out these sites if they want to save some money on their accessories. With the rising costs of living and people paying off mortgages and various loans, saving $200 on a purse can be a great feeling. Shopping is an emotional experience for many and saving money feels even better. Since I am a member of the target market that I have described, if I were choosing to buy a purse online, I would definitely check out Bluefly and SmartBargains. After conducting this research, I find that I would be more likely to check out Bluefly over SmartBargains because I really enjoyed browsing the Bluefly site. I particularly loved the idea and use of the Flypaper blog on Bluefly. SmartBargains had a little too much content on the home page for my liking and the fact that there are problems with links; it didn’t make for a great experience. There is clearly a market that exists for these discount websites and I believe that this market will only continue to grow in the future. Many women want to have the best things in life and for many; a beautiful purse can be a step in accomplishing this goal.

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