SHOP@AOL OVERHAUL SET FOR SUMMER

Byline: Valerie Seckler

NEW YORK — Shop@AOL will be getting a facelift this summer.
Beginning on July 15 and continuing through Sept. 30, America Online will redesign its shopping destination, revealed Patrick Gates, vice president of e-commerce at the Dulles, Va.-based company.
“We’ve looked at our holiday numbers, considered what our [e-tail] partners have told us, and figured out the best way to go,” Gates disclosed in an interview Tuesday. “We’ll expand various areas at Shop@AOL and consolidate others.
“We’ve made [plans for] a lot of changes,” he added, but did not elaborate. AOL’s top executives are slated to map out the makeover plan for the company’s employees on May 23.
Gates did say, “Apparel continues to be our number-one category at America Online. We haven’t seen it back off after the holiday, even though we don’t do a lot of promotion.”
The Internet isn’t rewriting every rule of retail, however.
America Online has found that gathering goods from a group of stores, in a virtual catalog, often makes for a stronger selling proposition than showcasing any single merchant at Shop@AOL — much like the allure of a mall compared with just one shop.
With that in mind, AOL on Tuesday said it has launched a cyber-catalog merchandising gifts for Mother’s Day — which falls on Sunday, May 14 — from 60 of its e-commerce partners. The Mother’s Day vehicle is the latest in AOL’s line of virtual catalogs designed around specific occasions, holidays and events, ranging from the Super Bowl to Valentine’s Day.
Mother’s Day has been the third-strongest holiday driver of sales at America Online, after Christmas and Valentine’s Day, according to Gates.
Items in the Mother’s Day catalog are merchandised to appeal to different personalities: stylish moms, pampered moms and home-sweet moms.
Gifts for the stylish include a women’s steel tank watch from Fossil, a straw tote handbag from eBags and a hand-knit sweater from Bluefly, while those for the pampered comprise RedEnvelope’s Deluxe Mind and Body Yoga Set, and Dooney & Bourke’s signature cosmetics case.
So far, hot items in the catalog include a 95-piece tool kit from Lillian Vernon Online, priced at $19.98, and the best-selling Custom CD, offered by CDNow for $20, enabling e-shoppers to create their own CD for their mother.
AOL will probably produce 20 virtual catalogs this year, down from 30 last year. “We did too many last year, and we couldn’t promote them properly,” Gates admitted.
“We got a little carried away during the holidays. Now we have a team working only on catalogs, and they’re more focused.
“More than ever, we’re seeing that online shopping is top-of-mind for consumers, especially when it comes to special occasions,” Gates observed.
In the few weeks preceding Mother’s Day 1999, for example, customer traffic in AOL’s “flowers, cards and candy” area ran up 210 percent over levels a year earlier.
During the first three months of this year, AOL members spent more than $3.9 billion through the company’s site, or 56 percent more than the $2.5 billion they spent there during holiday ’99.