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A Call (or Text) to Action

1 Sep, 2009 By: Nicole Urso Reed Response

A Call (or Text) to Action

It's tough for consumers to refuse a great value — especially when there's a clock ticking and opportunities to buy are diminishing. The tried-and-true, limited-time offer so familiar to DRTV aficionados has been embraced online in the form of high-fashion sample sales.

The trend started in France in 2002 with and grew in popularity through word-of-mouth, or rather, send-to-a-friend marketing. Last year, online sample sales mainstreamed in the U.S. with sites such as and opening and closing online boutiques filled with brand name apparel at discounted prices. Members must be invited to join, and they're incentivized to get their best friends to join too. The discreet sales are closed off to Google and other search engines.

Unique monthly visitors to Rue La La have spiked from 180,000 in June 2008 to more than 700,000 in June 2009. Despite decreased consumer spending, particularly in high-ticket items, Gilt has experienced the same steady growth with roughly 100,000 unique monthly visitors in June 2008 to almost 500,000 in June 2009.

Rue La La also boosts membership by extending invitations through newsletters, such as Splendora or Very Short List, which are targeted to their demographic.

"In this environment many retailers come to us because they've discovered this great new distribution channel," says Rob Murphy, senior vice president of marketing at Boston-based Rue La La. "We see ourselves as having two customers, our members and the brands."

i4Rue La La has extended its merchandise beyond women's apparel and has positioned itself as a lifestyle site with boutiques offering quality names in categories ranging from housewares to hotel packages.

"We turn down a lot of brands if we don't think they're a good fit for our members," says Murphy. "We edit the assortment. It's definitely not excess inventory."

Rue La La is also positioning itself to accommodate its users who want to take action and buy from a boutique on the go. With sales starting at various times during the day, building out the mobile experience is essential. Last month, the company launched its iPhone mobile shopping experience. Members can also schedule alerts to their phone when an upcoming boutique is scheduled to open.

"People use their phone as a primary device to shop," says Murphy. "This is the perfect model for mobile because it's so time sensitive. People are on the go, and they have to show up when the boutique opens at 11. It's a great example of using mobile for practical value."

Other retail sample sale sites include, and

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About the Author: Nicole Urso Reed

Nicole Urso Reed

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