E-Commerce

Lillian Vernon: Merchandising Maven
May 1, 2001

Lillian Vernon began selling personalized belts and handbags with a black and white ad 50 years ago. Now, the company offers more than 6,000 items through nine catalog titles and a growing Web business What do Katie Couric, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Hillary Clinton all have in common? It’s not their political affiliations. Think porcelain Easter baskets and personalized bean bag chairs. Now you get the picture: These celebrities are among the 23 million people who have shopped the pages of Lillian Vernon’s catalogs. The namesake business Lillian Vernon launched in 1951 on the kitchen table of her small, Mount Vernon, NY, apartment has

E-commerce: Winning the War
April 1, 2001

Congratulations, catalogers! We’ve won the battle against the “pure play” e-tailers. We all said they couldn’t last, and now they are dropping quicker than power lines in a Wisconsin ice storm. At the same time, catalogers have brought to the Internet channel all of the great assets we knew we had. Merchandising, graphics and copy capability, systems and fulfillment. The results are in, and the catalog business is migrating successfully to the Internet more quickly than any other type of business. With all the great new Internet business for catalogers shown in the chart below, shouldn’t we be experiencing the best of times?

Business-to-Government E-commerce Basics
April 1, 2001

Just four years ago, selling to the United States government was easy. That was the first time I saw a memo from a CFO establishing guidelines for online purchases using government issued credit cards. Those guidelines were short and sweet: (a) the Web site must offer secure purchasing; and (b) buyers should purchase from known vendors. That was it! During the past several years, things have gotten noticeably more complex. In that time, I have been monitoring vendor Web sites and government list servers and consulted with some notables in the industry. As a result, I have evolved a list of Web “basics”

Creating a Local Web Presence
April 1, 2001

Lands’ End has launched six international e-commerce sites within a period of 12 months. “We view international as a growth opportunity for Lands’ End,” says Sam Taylor, the company’s vice president of international. He explains the cataloger’s goal is to create a global brand. The company’s new approach is to expand internationally via the Internet. It chose Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom—the three largest e-commerce markets outside the United States—as the first trio of launches. These also happened to be the three international markets in which the cataloger already had a print catalog and the infrastructure to support a Web site. An e-commerce

E-catalog Model Technology
March 1, 2001

It began on the Lands’ End Web site as a high-tech variant of paper dolls. Now, 3-D models are a popular feature of many online catalogs, including J.C. Penney, Eddie Bauer and The Sharper Image. The 3-D model enables shoppers to configure an electronic, rotating mannequin that resembles themselves. Everything from face shape to waist measurement to hairstyle is changeable. The model is designed to help consumers make apparel decisions by showing how a garment fits, falls and flatters. It also shows how a garment will work with particular hair and eye colors. Most of the sites with online models offer a complementary

Case Study: Brooks Brothers on the Cutting Edge
March 1, 2001

Just before I sat down to write this, The New York Times reported the death of yet another beloved—albeit little known—boutique institution, Gorsart Clothes. The downtown Manhattan men’s clothier had served the Wall Street community since 1921. In the words of Times writer Sherri Day, The last straw may have been the advent of casual Fridays—and Thursdays and Wednesdays—which eliminated much of the need for the crisply tailored suit and the power tie. Where Gorsart was unable to change with the times, another great New York men’s clothier, Barney’s, changed too much—only to be taken over by its creditors in 1996. Founded in

Migrating Merchandising from Catalog to Dot-com
January 1, 2001

As successful catalog merchants, you’re using merchandising techniques every day to deal with issues such as “can’t touch it, can’t try it on.” Let’s face it, returns are a hassle. When it comes to selling products online, familiarity with these issues is just one advantage you have over both Internet-only “pure-plays” and store-based, bricks-and-clicks e-tailers. Pure-plays have the formidable task of simultaneously launching and marketing a new brand, sourcing and perhaps stocking product, creating visual assets, implementing technology, handling fulfillment and developing a customer service component (no wonder so many have failed!). Bricks-and-clicks players have their branding and merchant skills in place, but

What’s In Your Catalog’s Future?
December 1, 2000

For the past two decades, I have written and spoken worldwide on the future of the catalog industry. My position has always been to challenge conventional thinking, and I have been right on some things and wrong on others, but hopefully always provocative. My early thoughts on the future of the Internet (1994) and its influence on catalog and direct marketing have been, for the most part, accurate. I predicted the growing importance of e-mail marketing, permission-based databases, proprietary databases and the surety of dynamic pricing as an outgrowth of self-directed, online commerce. In 1997, I was correct in my assessment of

Techniques That Get Your E-mail Opened
November 1, 2000

E-mail marketing is new for many catalogers, and most are now concentrating on growing an in-house e-mail file. Some have started weekly or monthly newsletters that contain specials, and others are sending promotions. While many are becoming comfortable with the process of creating e-mail marketing messages, the competition for customers’ attention is growing. In the near future, it will become important for catalogers to set themselves apart from other e-mail marketers. As with print catalogs, several response-boosting techniques are worth testing in e-mail. Looking for Lists Most catalogers are working with their own housefiles right now. They have e-mail registration on

Great Customer Service Starts with Great CSRs
November 1, 2000

In today’s highly competitive catalog arena, service has become a make-or-break proposition for many companies—not a nicety. To stay in the game, it’s imperative that catalogers provide real service to their customers, not just lip service. “Service should benefit the customer, not just be a marketing tactic for the company,” says telemarketing consultant Liz Kislik, of Liz Kislik Associates. “Failing to meet this need by providing inadequately trained and/or non-service oriented [customer service] reps will guarantee failure,” adds Frank Fuhrman, director of sales, customer contact services, for DialAmerica Marketing, a telemarketing firm in Mahwah, NJ. The firm works with catalogers in the giftware,