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In a cyber twist to the traditional monthly sales clubs, shoe membership websites have become a hit among fashion forward women, who say they bring together the convenience and affordability of shopping online with the personalized experience offered in a boutique.

“This is fashion of the future,” said celebrity fashion designer Kimora Lee Simmons, who recently signed on as president, creative director, and an investor of JustFabulous Inc., an El Segundo, Calif., membership club. “It speaks to the modern day woman’s budget and lifestyle.”

On the first of each month, members log in to their accounts to view a limited, customized showroom of shoes: five inch gold platform heels for the Hollywood clubgoer, conservative flats for the girl next door, studded leather boots for the rocker chick. The shoes are designed in house, often by a team of high profile celebrities and stylists, and customers receive the pair of their choice starting at $39.95, including shipping. Members can skip a month if they don’t feel like receiving a new pair of shoes, provided they opt out (usually by the fifth of the month).

The members only programs have attracted hordes of loyal shoppers. The sites, subscribers say, are easy to use and customer friendly when it comes to returns, and usually do a good job identifying what styles members like.

“It’s very addicting. I have a heel collection now; before, I probably had maybe like one or two pairs that lasted me years,” said Amber Venturina, 26, of Yucaipa, Calif., who joined ShoeDazzle in June and also became a member of JustFabulous. Now, “I have to have shoes in every color.”

Shoe club officials say the websites make shoe buying less overwhelming, while bringing the elite service of a personal shopper to the masses.

“Not everyone has access to a stylist, but we can be a stylist through that technology and, hopefully, recommend the right products,” said Josh Berman, chief executive of BeachMint Inc., which operates newly launched shoe club ShoeMint. “Rather than going to an Amazon or Google and typing shoes and having thousands of things to choose from, what we’re learning is consumers like to be curated and shown what is hot.”

But as fashion memberships surge in popularity,
adidas adiprene Logging on for shoes of the month
they’re adding to the pressures on bricks and mortar merchants. Because shoe clubs sell directly to customers and don’t operate physical stores, they’re able to save on staffing and rent, enabling the brands to price the shoes for about half of what they would cost at the mall, company officials estimated.

“We are in the midst of a reinvention of retail,” said Kasey Lobaugh, a principal at Deloitte Consulting, who follows online shopping trends. “Retailers are being forced to innovate the business model. If they don’t, there is now a long list of nontraditional competitors who will.”

Another problem for old school retailers: Many members are flocking to the shoe clubs’ Facebook pages and other social media sites to ask other shoppers for help choosing a style or pairing their latest purchase with the right outfit. That high level of interaction is creating tight knit Web communities of shoe aficionados and replicating the in store experience of shopping with a group of girlfriends, historically something that couldn’t be found online.

“I’ve made a lot of good friends from the shoe clubs. We keep in touch in real life: We e mail, we text, we call,” said Joyce Moore, 33, a Palmdale, Calif., stay at home mom who has bought dozens of shoes through the membership programs. “We understand our love of shoes, that it’s not weird to have so many shoes and you can never get enough.”

The clubs have more in common than monthly delivery of cute shoes: Four of the companies ShoeDazzle, JustFabulous, Sole Society Inc., and ShoeMint are based in Los Angeles County, part of a growing crop of e commerce fashion brands that is helping to raise the profile of the region’s fledgling start up scene. Many are garnering big sales and investment dollars and have their sights set on adding more product categories and expanding internationally.

ShoeDazzle, cofounded in 2009 by Kim Kardashian, has raised $60 million from investors, including $40 million from venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, which has invested in major tech companies such as Facebook and Groupon. ShoeDazzle expanded to Britain and South Korea in 2011 and is launching in 10 other countries in 2012, cofounder Brian Lee said. In May 2011, it said it had more than three million members.

Since launching in March 2010, JustFabulous has gained more than four million members nationwide and is posting $5.5 million in monthly sales. The company which also sells handbags, denim, and other products expects to sell 2.5 million to 3 million pairs of shoes and handbags in 2012, JustFabulous co CEO Adam Goldenberg said.

Santa Monica’s ShoeMint launched on Black Friday and three days later had sold out of its entire inventory of women’s shoes, which are designed by actress Rachel Bilson and Hollywood stylist Nicole Chavez. Parent company BeachMint said ShoeMint its fourth e commerce site attracted about 80,000 pre registrations and was its most successful website launch to date; 10,000 people are on the wait list to buy shoes.

As young companies, the brands are still finding their footing.

Some shoppers have complained that it’s too difficult to remember to opt out when they don’t feel like a new pair of shoes, or they note that the showroom of styles appears to be the same regardless of what they filled out in their style questionnaires.
adidas adiprene Logging on for shoes of the month