HOME SHOPPING FIRMS VENTURE ONTO INTERNET

Byline: Sharon Edelson

NEW YORK — Television hasn’t worked out for some home shopping networks, so now it’s on to computer on-line services.
Catalog 1, the Spiegel-Time Warner joint venture, which recently cut its cable TV programming from a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week service to two hours on Saturdays, is planning to launch home shopping on the Internet in March. And the Home Shopping Network and QVC are developing commercial on-line and Internet shopping services.
“The wind shifted,” said Rod Parker, general manager of Catalog 1. “A lot of things are happening on the Internet. It’s like the Wild West out there, and we’re sending out the wagon train.”
Parker, who declined to project a volume for the Internet venture, said the benefits of computer services include the ability to update product offerings and prices more quickly than catalogs. Consumers can also place orders instantly.
Estimates on the number of Internet users range from 10 million to 25 million, but the figure is growing. Among the broadcast disappointments: TV Macy’s and Fingerhut’s S: The Shopping Channel. Both were never launched. Q2 is being repositioned and is said to be struggling. With the capacity for new cable networks still limited, computers are seen as a bridge between TV and interactive services, which are confined to small test beds for now.
“On-line shopping services are an interim step that could become a several billion dollar business in two or three years if supermarkets get involved,” said R. Fulton Macdonald, president of International Business Development.
But Macdonald questioned whether apparel could become a big category via computer. “It is not the way women will shop in large numbers. It will make inroads, but mostly with men.”
Nonetheless, electronic retailers are pressing forward. HSN launched services on Prodigy and Compuserve. The Prodigy version uses text and color photographs. HSN is also expanding the product offerings of the Internet Shopping Network, a business it purchased last August. ISN has been selling a limited amount of merchandise on the Internet since April.
QVC will make its foray into the on-line arena later this year, when it launches a shopping service on one of the commercial on-line networks. QVC is also planning to open shop on the Internet some time this year.
In addition, QVC sales reps will have access to all the merchandise available through the on-line service, so computer-phobic customers can receive product information over the phone.
Catalog 1 is also creating content for Time Warner’s Full Service Interactive Network, which was launched in Orlando in January. While Parker declined to say how many homes receive FSN — it is believed to be in only a handful — he said the goal is to have 4,000 homes wired this year.

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