Catalog City to Go it Alone in Europe

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LONDON - Catalog City will launch its first European venture in May when the California based provider of Internet catalog services opens a site in the UK. Germany and France will follow later this year, then Scandinavia.

"We are going live by the end of March," said John Pincott, the managing director for the European operation, "and that's different from a launch, which is telling people about it. Before we do that, we want to be sure we get it right.

"Consumers in Europe are far less forgiving than they are in the US and our service needs to be perfection. Poor service and poor delivery stories have begun to proliferate in the media so before we blow our trumpet, we want to make sure that our service is pretty darn good."

That trumpet will blow online and offline. The company will use regular advertising, direct mail and off-the-page ads. It is considering radio and DRTV.

The decision to go into Europe alone represents a strategic shift for Catalog City, which hosts 17,000 catalogs on its US site. Last fall it had planned to enter European markets with one or several local partners.

The reason for the change, Pincott explained, was the company's booming US business in the 4th quarter and into this year.

"It grew beyond all expectations," he said, "and led the board to realize the potential and value of setting up Catalog City Europe in its own right.

"Our business is to help catalogers win on the Web in a multitude of ways. One is by hosting their content on our Web site so that it is promoted directly to consumers.

"We also promote content through our syndication partnerships with Web portals, of which we currently have 12 in the US, and are working to develop similar relationships with high traffic and high users in Europe."

As a first stage, the company is developing what Pincott calls a "multilingual and multicurrency functionality" rather than a simple site. "The difference is that ours will be consumer profile driven," he said.

That means, he explained, that shoppers can choose the language in which to shop and the currency in which to pay for goods while online. "You can be a Frenchman living in Germany who wants to order in French and pay in dollars for goods sourced in Germany," he said.

The European sites will feature local and US catalogs so that consumers can search on several levels for products and services. The UK site, for example, will feature British, European and US books.

"This will be a very smart process similar to the personalization of consumer language preference. It will personalize content. If you only want UK merchandise you have that option, but you can also search the European product database or the entire Catalog City database."

Logistics will be sourced out to an "associate" company. Pincott expects to select one or several in the near future, so "there will be no capital investment on the logistical side."

All the technology for the site is being developed at Catalog City's Pacific Palisades venue, at least for the time being. Service for Europe also will be hosted out of California until "demand requires that we shift it to Europe."

Pincott is looking for consultancies in Germany and France similar to Sterling Marketing, where he worked until December. Sterling is a UK company that specializes in bringing US firms onto the European market. It will assist in the UK launch.

"We're looking for a suitable agency to work with us on tailoring the business to the local market, that understands the right usage of language, both linguistically and culturally."

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