Bargain e-tailer Bluefly aims to fly anywhere but further into the red. The company is an online retailer of designer apparel and accessories for men, women, and teens at prices it claims are 30%-75% cheaper than retail. The Bluefly.com website carries more than 50,000 styles from 350-plus brands, including Prada and Calvin Klein. It is also a partner in a newly-formed joint venture -- Eyefly -- that began sell prescription fashion eyewear online in 2011. Founded in 1991 to sell golf apparel, Bluefly later made the transition to an off-price luxury e-tailer. The Bluefly.com site was launched in 1998 and has yet to have a profitable year.
2010 was no exception as the business again lost money, despite a 9% uptick in sales vs. the previous year. Still, sales were well below 2008 levels. In 2010 the e-tailer shifted its merchandise mix toward luxury designer items as the economy improved. During the depths of the recession, Bluefly focused on "contemporary" (less high end) merchandise. While the shift to back to luxury increased the average order size, it resulted in an increased return rate.
Blyfly, under CEO Melissa Payner-Gregor, has taken a number of steps in recent years to narrow its losses. The business posted a net loss of just over $4 million in 2010 vs. a deficit of $11.3 million in 2008. Indeed, the company is in a precarious financial position with an accumulated deficit of about $151.6 million vs. sales of just over $88 million. Still, Bluefly was able to invest $364,000 in the formation of Eyefly, giving it a 52% stake in the joint venture. (Its partner, A + D Labs owns the rest.) Eyefly is slated to launch in spring 2011.
To help shore up its financial position, in December 2009 it received a $15 million equity infusion from funds affiliated with the private investment firm Rho Ventures in the form of a private placement of newly-issued Bluefly common stock. Rho's investment gave the struggling company more working capital with which to purchase inventory and acquire customers. Rho, which initially took a 15% stake in the company, has since increased its holding to about 36% of Bluefly's shares, making it the firm's largest shareholder. (Financier George Soros owns about 25% of the shares. Also, investment firms Maverick Capital and Prentice Capital Management own about 15% and 12% of the company's shares, respectively.)
Actions taken to improve profitability include streamlining its operations, and dramatically trimming marketing expenses and inventory purchases. The company has shifted its marketing focus to online marketing programs, which it believes are more efficient and easier to measure than offline marketing efforts. It is also trying new tactics to boost sales. In June 2009 the e-tailer held its first private sale featuring vintage and estate jewelry from the likes of Tiffany, Bulgari, and Cartier, all supplied by jewelry wholesaler Circa. The invitation-only event was staged with the hope of attracting new customers to Bluefly. Baubles sold for thousands of dollars, far above the typical price range for Bluefly's high-end designer merchandise of $700 to $3,500.