Warner Bros. and Bluefly Miss the Mark

Warner Bros. has introduced a new fashion-oriented Web site, The Fashion Maven, which supposedly allows consumers to purchase articles of clothing online that were recently worn by one of the entertainment giant’s television or movie characters.

Warner Bros. is partnering with fashion e-tailer Bluefly.com, and will provide the fashions while Bluefly handles the site design, sales, shipping and customer service.

Regardless of who does what, the site may well be the worst e-commerce effort ever introduced by a major entertainment company.

How Not To Launch a New Web Site

“With the launch of The Fashion Maven site, millions of fans will have a place to learn more about the fashion trends seen, and often started, on their favorite TV show or in the movies,” said Warner Bros. Online Vice President Rich Sutton.

Not so fast. At present, the site has only six items for sale — and none are identified as coming from any specific character in a television show or movie. The items, furthermore, are drawings, not actual pictures, so one cannot really see anything that resembles a fashion item worn by a television or movie star.

To make matters worse, links take users to Bluefly’s generic Web site instead of a shopping cart to buy the item. Clicking on an A.B.S. paisley dress on the site, for example, results in being shown a page from Bluefly with eight more A.B.S. dresses.

Nowhere on the site is there any reference to just where the items may have come from, or how “millions of fans will have a place to learn more about the fashion trends seen, and often started, on their favorite TV show.”

Where the Content Is Supposed to Come From

The companies said that content will come from such television shows as “Friends,” “ER,” “Dawson’s Creek,” “The Drew Carey Show,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and “Veronica’s Closet.” Warner Brothers’ recent movie releases include “The Green Mile,” “You’ve Got Mail,” “Any Given Sunday,” and “Pokemon: The Movie.”

“We think that if viewers see Monica wearing a dress on ‘Friends,’ they might go out to the site and buy a similar dress,” Bluefly Executive Vice President Jonathan Morris told the E-Commerce Times Tuesday. “We believe there is an affinity there that you just don’t have in other online marketing arrangements.”

Uncharted Waters

Bluefly and Warner Bros. are walking into largely uncharted territory. NBC’s Internet arm, NBCi, launched a boutique in December 1999 that sells jewelry based on the characters in its daytime drama, “Passions.”

The E-Commerce Times reported at the time that NBCi had planned to offer clothing on the site. However, as of today, clothing is not available.

Morris said that Bluefly would work closely with Warner Bros. to make sure to have the entertainment-oriented clothing available. “We have very high expectations of this venture,” he said.

Little Evidence of Success

While Bluefly may have high expectations for its new venture, there is little evidence that the concept has significant prospects for success. Unfortunately for Bluefly, sales of fashion merchandise online has largely been a disappointment.

Bluefly, which sells discounted merchandise from over 350 fashion designers, recently reported fourth quarter sales of $4.2 million (US$) as a positive event. For the previous nine months, Bluefly had total sales of only $1.9 million.

Despite the miniscule sales, there is considerable hope that the category will continue its growth as more women begin shopping online. Bluefly, for example, has created strategic alliances with America Online, MSN and other portals, and content relationships with magazines like Marie Claire, Esquire and Harper’s Baazar.

It also received an investment of $10 million from a group led by Soros Private Equity Partners, LLC.

In the end, however, all of these measures will not matter much. The bottom line is dollars, and when Bluefly’s investors and strategic partners — along with the Warner Bros. brass — see the fruits of their labor at The Fashion Maven, one can expect to see some real fur flying.

And it won’t likely be the fashion variety.

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