Gloss.com CTO Adds Polish to Virtual Boutique

SAN MATEO (02/24/2000) - Trendsetting. Pampering the customer. Enhancing the brand. For Doug Dalton, CTO at the high-end cosmetics e-business Gloss.com, those business buzzwords translate into his biggest challenge: creating a boutique atmosphere on the Web that puts a premium on customer service.

"We want to provide the end-user with that prestige experience that they are at one of the finest stores they could possibly be at, and they are viewing the product in a way that the actual brand would like to see," says Dalton, who came to Gloss.com in the fall of 1999, just following the preview site launch.

"What [goal] went into development of our Web site was, 'How do we translate that vision into a Web site -- that boutique experience and that encompassing feel?' "Dalton came to the San Francisco-based Gloss.com with a varied background in the Internet arena. He started out at Sprint as a lead engineer, helping to build the company's domestic Internet backbone. Then he started his own company, an Internet incubator, which was eventually acquired. Dalton's next stop was Netscape, where he helped work on the company's Web site architecture.

And finally, he went to work as vice president of engineering and operations at Knowledge Universe, founded by former junk bond king Michael Milken and Oracle CEO Larry Ellison.

So why the switch to an e-business that sells cosmetics?

"I really wanted to focus on one company," Dalton says, adding that he was looking for companies that were original in a particular market's base.

Gloss.com fit the bill. "What really made Gloss qualify in all those areas was the fact that Gloss had a team from the industry that had a large amount of success in the industry," he says.

Dalton says he fills the role of technical strategist for the company. "I'm the technical arm of the CEO. What I provide is a technical vision and manner to execute and maintain that vision," he says.

In the high-end cosmetics industry, branding is key to that corporate vision.

"The only differentiating factor in cosmetics is the way in which you are helping the brand continue the vision of the product," Dalton says.

That means discounting products isn't an advantage, and customer service is key to success. To create the high-end customer experience online, Gloss.com partnered with Blue Martini, a San Mateo, Calif.-based e-company that has a customer interaction system to help build company brands through real-time customer interaction. Their system focused on personalized service.

"Blue Martini has a whole series of objects that are already defined. For example, they have data mining, and the personalization aspect of the site, and customer fulfillment," Dalton says. "You get that end-to-end customer experience."

To enhance the visit, Gloss.com lets customers do a virtual makeover on different models, applying different shades of lipstick or eye shadow to see how the products look. Eventually, Gloss.com wants a program that will allow customers to scan in their own faces for a makeover.

Customers can call a toll-free number at any time for a little human help, but Dalton says relatively few customers take that step. The first time they come to the site, customers are asked a series of questions that allows for customized service in subsequent visits. "Most people are willing to go through that process because they know that then we'll have the information," he says.

"I think in a market where I can go out and find any product I want online, the differentiating factor is how I feel I've been treated."

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