Sharper Image Launches EU, UK Sites

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The Sharper Image last month introduced versions of sharperimage.com for shoppers in the UK and throughout the European Union that accept payment only in pounds and euros, respectively.


A German language site is slated to open in the fall. The EU site is the first to accept only the new currency. The euro becomes cash money January 1 but credit card transactions can be completed in euros now.


The sites offer an array of Sharper Image products with electronics geared to local electrical requirements.


Surfers who click on sharperimage.com are given a choice of three sites marked with the U.S., British or EU flag. Text is in English on all three sites and the U.S. site loads after a few seconds if the other two are not clicked.


On its EU and UK sites, Sharper Image explains that "unfortunately we do not currently produce a paper catalog for our European customers" but notes that products "are specially adapted for Europe, with instruction manuals in multiple languages online." Goods are shipped from Europe.


New products offered on European sites include a CD player for the shower priced at 160 pounds ($240) on the UK site and 209.95 euros ($194) on the EU site. In general EU prices are lower for the same item than those in the UK.


The UK and EU sites have been up for less than a month, so it is still too early to know how well they are doing.


European business is not expected to have great impact "on our overall sales in the near term," said CEO Richard Thalheimer in a statement, but "it's an important part of our long-range strategy of selling Sharper Image Design products globally."


The Sharper Image moved into global markets in the mid-nineties through catalogs, licensees, wholesalers, stores, direct response TV and the Web.


It had stores in 10 countries, a German licensee -- Pro/idee - that placed company products in its catalog, and plans for broader expansion. Indeed, by 1997, the company had a licensee in Saudi Arabia and big plans for Mideast growth.


Pro/idee still includes Sharper Image in its catalog and the company has a presence in major UK stores including Harrods, Innovation and Debahans. But the Mideast venture didn't work out and the Saudi stores closed.


Other licensee agreements also did not succeed.


"We found that wholesale and distribution relationships were better, make us more money and give us more control over distribution," said spokeswoman Kathryn Grant.


"We were giving licensees a lot of leeway in distributing our products and representing our name. With licensees you are forced to rely on someone and hope he is a seasoned retailer who maintains stores and has a strong selection of other goods to display next to yours.


"That's what we do with our U.S. stores, where we display one of a kind and special products from people like Sony and Panasonic and tend to have the newest, latest and greatest individual technology products."


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