By  on May 3, 1994

NEW YORK -- The most elusive commodity next to available cable channels would seem to be upscale television shoppers. Nobody seems to know whether they really exist.

While it might be too soon to draw definitive conclusions about Time Warner and Spiegel's Catalog 1, introduced four weeks ago in four markets, the new shopping channel seems to have garnered an audience that is willing to pay more for fashion.

"We are attracting a different customer," said Gordon Cooke, president of Time Warner interactive merchandising.

The proof, he said, is that Catalog 1 shoppers are spending twice as much as the $50 average order placed by TV shoppers.

"We found out we could sell ready-to-wear looks, so our average order for Spiegel's is significantly over $100," Cooke said. "The average order is a result of higher price point offerings and a result of multiple-item purchasing. Traditional shopping services sell items. That's important."

Cooke said high-priced swimsuits from Gottex and other manufacturers sold well. A real surprise was the $500 pieces of jewelry from Spiegel's.

Catalog 1 began by running programming from Spiegel's, which is headquartered in Downers Grove, Ill., then added Eddie Bauer. Today, Crate & Barrel, Sharper Image, Horchow, The Nature Co. and Viewer's Edge are on the air. In the coming weeks, Williams Sonoma and Bombay Co. will join them.

Catalog 1 has been experimenting with merchandise that would seem difficult to sell on TV, such as window treatments.

"We did it to prove to different catalogers that things that need a great deal of explanation can be sold," he said. "If we said, 'Let's pick 100 items that we can do the most volume with,' then we're becoming like HSN or QVC.

"We have gotten very good customer reaction to the show hosts and the programming content," Cooke said. "It at least starts to validate some of the merchandising and creative concepts we had.

"We were concerned with presenting the customer a selling platform they had not been exposed to before. We're bringing outside experts in and using runway footage. They're used to being hawked. We wondered whether they would respond to something a little more subtle and packaged with a higher production value."While Cooke declined to discuss volume, he said, "Sales were initially not enough to measure because nobody knew we were there. The sales have been growing significantly each week."

Catalog 1 is currently in 400,000 homes.

Time Warner is taking a multi-media approach to the marketing of Catalog 1. Time Warner Interactive Group in Los Angeles produced a CD-ROM with Spiegel's bathing suit program. Cooke said it will be bundled with CD-ROM software.

Then there is Time Warner's interactive Full Service Cable Network, which will be tested in Orlando before the end of the year.

Cooke said there are 17 different consumer services under way, including merchandise from Spiegel's and Miami-based Burdines, financial management advice, automobile dealerships offering information on various models and interactive test driving, and even an interactive Post Office branch.

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