Byline: James Fallon

LONDON — Harrods has entered the Internet age with an agreement announced Tuesday to launch a web site in the U.S. and Canada in a 50-50 joint venture with the U.S. catalog company Spiegel Inc., and Spiegel’s German parent Otto Versand.
The London department store will launch its site in North America in the Christmas selling period. The site initially will have over 200 Harrods-branded products, primarily such gift lines as small leather goods, teddy bears and foods, a spokesman said. Spiegel will handle all fulfillment and logistics.
The site will be supported by a catalog, which will be mailed to more than 2.5 million households in North America.
The store plans to add more of its own-label products to the site over time and also to include other luxury brands that it sells at its store. The spokesman declined to reveal the names of these brands at this stage.
Harrods said that it is recruiting a senior management team to the joint venture, which will be called HOT Inc., and will do business as Harrods Online. The company will be based in London, the spokesman said.
Following the North American trial, the site will be rolled out to the U.K. in March 2000 and to continental Europe and Japan by the middle of 2000. Television shopping will be added at a later date.
“Harrods’ ultimate aim is to create the luxury site offering the widest possible range of international designer names alongside the Harrods brand,” the company said. “The site will merchandise products in a luxurious and exclusive environment designed to reflect the ambience of Harrods in Knightsbridge and make the shopping experience as pleasurable as possible.”
The investment in the web site was not revealed.
The spokesman said the company decided to start with North America because Spiegel’s systems and logistics are extremely advanced and capable of fulfilling the orders from the site.
The Harrods store in Knightsbridge here is one of the world’s largest department stores, with close to 1 million square feet of selling space. It sells such designer lines as Gucci, Prada, Giorgio Armani, Celine, Louis Vuitton, Jil Sander, Christian Dior, Givenchy, Helmut Lang and Chloe.
The company recently has been expanding its own-label program and a year ago announced plans to begin wholesaling its label through licensed products.
The firm so far has signed a license with Swiss-America for a luxury watch line, which rolls out this fall. A license for an accessories line, to be launched at retail in spring 2000, is close to being signed, a spokesman said.