Epicenter touts three-channel shopping service at Direct Media Co-op

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WHITE PLAINS, NY - In order to properly serve a consumer, it is imperative to observe and get to know them and their needs. The Epicenter Collection, which develops small stores in malls, did just that and came up with a new plan to give today's consumers the shopping experience they want.

This was the topic of discussion at the "Integrating the Best Aspects of Direct Marketing and Retail," session at the 33rd Direct Media Client Conference and Co-op at the Westchester Renaissance Hotel.

"Life has changed and consumers are shopping differently," said Will Von Klemperer of American Catalog Partnerships LLC, who acts as a consultant to Epicenter, a unit of retail venue developer Gordon Group Holdings. "It's important to accommodate them."

Mr. Von Klemperer said that the biggest challenge since 1997 is three-channel shopping, comprising retail, catalog and the Web.

Sixty-five percent of purchasing is made through three-channel shopping, he told the audience of list services firm Direct Media's clients and prospects. Three-channel consumers buy more and are better armed with Web-enabled comparison shopping.

"Although consumers complain about long lines, untrained staff and no parking when it comes to retail stores, it's a love-hate relationship because stores get 85 percent of consumers' business," Mr. Von Klemperer said.

Consumers also have a love-hate relationship with direct marketing. They complain about postage and handling and items not being as expected, but 80 percent of U.S. households shop direct and direct marketing volume goes up every year.

"We have to give consumers the shopping processes they want," Mr. Von Klemperer said.

Tony Lee, chairman of Epicenter, talked about what the company is doing to fulfill consumer demand.

"We are taking all the best parts of three-channel shopping and combining them to fulfill the needs of smarter, more demanding consumers," Mr. Lee said.

The Epicenter e-commerce site complements the store experience and represents an additional channel for incremental sales from the shoppers.

The merchant offers in-store retailing, the convenience of speed and online catalog shopping and the ability to shop seamlessly across merchants using advanced technology.

Consumers can go to a store to see, touch and try on clothes. They are given a personal shopping device, which allows them to scan products and find out extra information about the product that can usually be found online.

Shoppers can avoid retail checkout lines because the shopping device stores their name and address and, if they choose, the items can be shipped to them at no extra cost.

Consumers can bypass dealing with retail personnel.

"The personal shopping device allows the consumer to shop all merchants and using a simple bar code scan, accumulate selections into a single shopping cart," said Ann Gambardella, chief technology officer of Epicenter.

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