Lillian Vernon Bolsters Its Online Channel

Even a longtime cataloger such as Lillian Vernon Corp. has heard the call of the Internet. Last month, the 54-year-old company answered it.

With president Jonathan Shapiro predicting that online sales will account for half of its business in 2005 and soon could be the dominant channel of distribution, the White Plains, NY, company relaunched its Web site in mid-February. It includes some of the latest technology such as rich media, A/B testing and targeted merchandising.

“We are married to the inexorable march of the consumer to the online channel,” he said. “If you're going to be a great direct marketer, we believe you have to be a great multichannel marketer.”

Though there always will be consumers who prefer to phone in their orders, the Web “has a good shot of being our predominant channel of distribution,” Shapiro continued. This past holiday season, online sales accounted for 45 percent of Lillian Vernon's business.

The typical Lillian Vernon customer is in her mid-40s, married with children and owns her home. She has a college degree and, Shapiro said, is slightly more affluent than the average mail-order buyer.

The company undertook the makeover aiming to create a site that is easy to use, providing a seamless shopping experience between its catalogs and Web site.

“The customer doesn't think of us as a catalog, she thinks of us as Lillian Vernon, and she wants to transact with us how and when she wants to,” Shapiro said.

He hopes the improvements convert more site visitors into buyers. The site's conversion rate fluctuates depending on the time of year. At its best, the rate is 10 percent to 15 percent.

“If we can increase conversion from 10 percent to 11 percent, that's great,” Shapiro said.

He drew a link between the importance of “the shopping experience” and “usability” to the success of an e-commerce site. The company hopes to achieve these goals through technology such as targeted merchandising.

Targeted merchandising provides a personalized user experience based on customer choices, preferences and actions. If visitors shopped children's products on the site previously, then they will be shown a home page featuring children's products on a return visit.

Another feature is A/B testing, which lets Lillian Vernon test which online content or promotion produces a higher conversion rate.

The technology for these features is provided by Fry Inc., Ann Arbor, MI, which developed the new Lillian Vernon Web site.

Another feature of the new site is rich media, which increases the interactivity of online catalogs. Customers can flip pages, zoom in on product details, mark items with “sticky notes” and make purchases directly from the catalog. The rich media technology is provided by Scene7, Novato, CA.

Shapiro reported that about 15 percent of Lillian Vernon's Web site users only use the online catalog.

Lillian Vernon will embark upon an online marketing campaign this year to drive business to its new site. This will include pushing Web transactions in its catalogs and search affiliate programs.

The new site is the first step in the company's Internet strategy, Shapiro said.

“We don't view this as a destination, it is a journey,” he said. “We want to continually improve the site, to which end we will be testing new navigation and tools.”

Chantal Todé covers catalog and retail news and BTB marketing for DM News and DM To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting

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