Success for Bon-Ton ‘comforting’

Thomas V. Bona

Things were clicking for the local Bon-Ton Stores distribution center in its first Christmas season fulfilling online orders.

“They feel that it’s running extremely well. Customers are satisfied, no complaints that they didn’t get merchandise. They got it on time,” Bon-Ton spokeswoman Mary Kerr said Thursday.

York, Penn.-based Bon-Ton launched its widely expanded Web sites — including sites for Bergner’s, Carson Pirie Scott and Elder-Beerman — in October. The Rockford distribution center, the company’s largest, handles online orders for home furnishings, linens, electronics and other items, while an Ohio center handles apparel orders.

Kerr said the company doesn’t break out e-commerce sales from its overall sales data, and she couldn’t say how many packages were shipped out of Rockford during the Christmas season.

She also declined to say how e-commerce sales compared to company expectations.

“Customers responded very well to our e-commerce launch in October. Sales jumped from the start and continued growing through the holiday season,” she said.

The most popular items shipped from the Rockford center were electronic devices, such as GPS navigations systems, digital picture frames, MP3 players, portable DVD players and digital cameras. In fact, Kerr said, the Rockford e-commerce fulfillment center is now the top seller of electronic items in the company.

She said that’s because the online offerings bring in more customers and orders, not because it’s stealing customers from stores. She said in-store electronics sales are also up this year.

But the early success of the e-commerce venture are comforting for Bon-Ton, Kerr said, because same-store sales decreased 13 percent in December over 2006. For the year, overall sales were up 1.8 percent to $3.18 billion.

Kerr said Bon-Ton plans to add more products to its Web sites and do more promotions to attract customers. She said the Rockford center has the capacity to take in more business.

That could also mean more employees here. The center added workers last year for the e-commerce work and to serve an additional 20 stores in the Bon-Ton system.

The center employs more than 200 and annually adds 50 to 75 holiday workers.

The 565,000-square-foot center is at 4650 Shepherd Train off North Main Street. It opened in 1980 and was the first major distribution center in the area, predating ventures by Lowe’s, Staples and Target.

When Bon-Ton completed the acquisition of the Northern Department Store Group of Saks Inc. in 2006, it became one of the largest regional department-store chains in the U.S. It owns the Bon-Ton, Bergner’s, Boston Stores, Carson Pirie Scott, Elder-Beerman, Herberger’s and Younkers chains.

Staff writer Thomas V. Bona may be contacted at 815-987-1343 or