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Oops, They Did It Again: Mary-Kate & Ashley Olsen's Smart Second Step in E-Commerce

What's a couple of billionaire entrepreneurs to do when they hit on the next big thing? Mix a little marketing expertise with the magic of being a member of an exclusive club and voila: welcome to Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen's new e-commerce venture dubbed StyleMint.com.

Set to debut in July (see, they're already generating big buzz) StyleMint.com is the product of a strategic partnership between the Olsen twins and BeachMint Inc., a California company headed by co-founder of MySpace Josh Berman.
Old concept, new twist
StyleMint is part of a new wave of e-commerce platforms based on the old book-of-the-month model. But it's not your grandma's of-the-month club. Sites such as JewelMint (BeachMint's first venture in partnership with actress Kate Bosworth) and JustFabulous (now featuring the chic and smart stylist duo behind Who, What, Wear) use social media, celebrity stylists, and sigh-inducing exclusive collections to offer personalized shopping and bring the whole experience into the millennium.

Other clubs offer membership in exchange for information (lengthy registration meant to winnow down style preferences) and then cost $39.99 per month for a selection. ShoeDazzle (helmed by reality star Kim Kardashian since 2008) explains it in a conspiratorial way, as if you were shopping with an indulgent friend:

Members receive a new selection at the beginning of each month, and once you place your first order, you will be charged $39.95 on the sixth day of each month, which includes our stylists' efforts and expertise, one gorgeous item, and free shipping. We understand that not everyone wants something every month, so if you'd like to skip a month, simply sign in to your account by the fifth day of the month, click the Skip the Month button in your showroom, and you will not be charged for that month.
The Olsen difference
The billionairesses parlayed their star turn on 80s sitcom Full House into an empire that evolved from film to fashion. They now have four labels under their purview that range from haute luxe The Row to mid-priced Elizabeth and James, Textile Elizabeth and James, to cheap chic Olsenboye (available at JCPenney).

The Row's been lauded by fashion's upper echelons, recently earning the duo a spot in the prestigious Council of Fashion Designers of America. But despite the near-overnight success of each of their brands, the Olsen sisters were somewhat slow to convert to the Web, partly reluctant because they wanted to provide a complete user experience. The two were spot on when The Row's e-commerce launched last summer. The site delivers a one-two fashion punch: a preponderance of posh minimal styles and the pressure to click and buy before some other lucky fashionista grabs it.

Club chic
And so it is with StyleMint. The Olsens are leveraging their style status along with a commanding air of exclusivity: "Membership is limited. Get on the list now." Oh, and there's a bit of savvy marketing baked in: "Secure your place at the front of the line by inviting at least 10 friends to join!"

Despite their considerable acumen designing drool-worthy footwear for their Elizabeth and James collection you won't find the Olsen's following in Kim Kardashian's stilettoed footsteps. Instead, they're starting with t-shirts. Eight styles of cotton/Modal-blend Ts (also smart as cotton prices remain high) in a range of shapes and colors from classic crew and V-neck to henleys in white, gray, striped, etc.

Basics may expand into knits and sweaters but for now, the Olsens are going to fine tune this wardrobe staple and stick to a lower price point of $29.99.

What they get
Though they're going a slightly different route in terms of offerings, the Olsens no doubt paid close attention to Kim Kardashian's ShoeDazzle. Through word of mouth that company's gained "millions in monthly revenues" within a year and raised $20 million in funding, a whopping $13 million of which came last August from Lightspeed Venture Partners.

While e-commerce provides a vehicle not just to shop but also the thrill of the hunt for the best price or the last size four Prada blouse, the Olsens have latched on to a next-generation concept in customer loyalty and conversion. Not many retailers can claim that even their most loyal customers come back and buy something every month. (And if they don't buy and forget to opt-out by the 6th of the month, the company pockets the dues - no store can claim that).

Perhaps the demand for their ultra-chic threads will indeed inform the sisters' future designs. At the very least StyleMint's personal style algorithms should provide enough data to allow them to sell more of the most popular items. And just like that, the Olsens have another winning brand.

Image via StyleMint's Facebook Page

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