The Times Leader: July 13, 2008

WILKES-BARRE, Pennsylvania

When BabyAge.com coaxes customers to say "Cheese" after shopping for diapers or infant clothing, one might think the company has added a baby picture service to its list of online offerings.

Not quite.

Instead it wants you to check out the cheeses, desserts and other delicacies at fellow etailer Igourmet.com.

That's what it did with a Father's Day e-mail sent to customers last month. West Pittston-based Igourmet returned the favor with a BabyAge link earlier this month in its e-mailed newsletter featuring a four-cheese assortment with an insulated travel bag.

The two local companies have teamed up to trade traffic on their Web sites, following a proven marketing practice for Internet-based businesses that don't compete against one another but share similar audience demographics.

Think of it as a "we market you, you market us," type arrangement, explained Julie Space of BabyAge.

Some call the practice "reciprocal marketing" or "affinity marketing," Space said. She should know. She has the title of vice president of marketing and the customer experience for BabyAge which ships tens of thousands of orders a month from its 50,000-square-foot warehouse in Hanover Township.

"It's really where two businesses promote each other to gain a mutual benefit," she said.

The idea is that the same people who shop at BabyAge are likely to be interested in what Igourmet has to offer. The shoppers live within the major metropolitan cities and outlying suburban areas and have an annual median income of more than $75,000."

This is something new we're embarking on," Space said. But it's been in place for a while and proven to be a "reliable strategy employed by a lot of dot coms" she added. In the brick-and-mortar marketplace, the strategy is known as co-op marketing or cross promotion, according to the online resource eNotes.com.

However, etailers might have an advantage over their retailers with real estate or "realtailers" in terms of cost and measuring the effectiveness of their collaborative marketing efforts.

Partnering with another business is one way to place your brand in front of customers, Space said.

Ideally, the placement should be on Web sites with a similar, or better yet, a greater amount of traffic. To that end, BabyAge is working on reciprocal arrangements with several big names such as Avon and L'Oreal, she said. It's understandable why others want to partner with BabyAge. In May Internet Retailer Magazine ranked BabyAge 296 out of the Top 500 Web sites in annual sales revenues. It also ranked 28th in the Top 500 specialty/non-apparel category. Once the links are in place it's easy to check on them.

"We track everything," Space said, from how often the link is opened, whether products are clicked on and purchased and even the time spent on the site. "We're able to see all of that."

It doesn't cost anything for BabyAge to have its banner link on Igourmet's emails, newsletter or Web site. "No cash is exchanged at hand, but rather services are changing hands," she said.

The e-mail "blasts" BabyAge sends out are created in-house. The company has a graphic designer and Web designer on staff that can customize them for different versions sent out for shoppers of infant, toddler and juvenile clothing and accessories.

The collaboration also keeps customer acquisition costs down because its opens up access to another market.

But just putting one's name out there is not enough, there has to be something of value offered to draw shoppers to the site, such as a coupon, discount or free shipping. Having made the connection, the company must try to maintain it by signing the customer up to a newsletter or e-mail list of its own. Those customers in turn can be used to forward the e-mails to friends.

"That's the broader base we can market to on an ongoing basis," Space said.

BabyAge.com customer demographics
Unique visitors per month: 1 million
Median age: 25 to 35
Median income: $75,000 plus
Customer makeup: 82 percent female, 18 percent male
2007 Top 10 sales areas:
Miami, Fla.
New York City, N.Y.
Alameda, Calif.
Brooklyn, N.Y.
Chicago, Ill.
Auburn, Wash.
Los Angeles, Calif.
Belmont, Calif.
Avondale Estates, Ga.
Avenel, N.J.
Source: BabyAge.com

Contact: www.BabyAge.com

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