Prefer Network's Co-Op Doubles Usage Through Catalog-Only Focus

Catalog-only cooperative database Prefer Network revealed J.Jill its first million-name user this month while overall usage of its database this year has already exceeded the total for all of last year.

Both milestones for the 18-month-old database took place as it continues to add clients to its roster in time for the fall and holiday catalog mailing seasons, though Prefer Network CEO Doug Platt would not share usage figures.

Prefer Network, New York, is distinctive from its cooperative database competitors because it is made up exclusively of catalogers. Other cooperative databases such as DoubleClick's Abacus Alliance, Experian's Z-24 and I-Behavior Inc. include non-catalog mailers such as publishers. Abacus has more than 1,800 members, Z-24 has more than 600 and I-Behavior is at 350.

Also differentiating Prefer Network from Abacus Alliance and Z-24 is the level of data it demands of its participants. The database offers product-level detail data for 100 percent of its members. Competitor I-Behavior also provides product level data.

“If you're Smith & Hawken and you're looking for people who want to buy garden products, we can find the people who have bought garden products from Lillian Vernon,” Platt said. “Abacus would never be able to select those names because the product type is just too different.”

Cataloger and Prefer Network million-name user J. Jill joined the co-op specifically because of the availability of detailed product data.

“The added wrinkle of using product level information differentiates Prefer Network from their competitors and makes our targeting efforts more effective,” said John Hayes, president of the J. Jill Direct division of J. Jill Group Inc., Quincy, MA, which joined the database late last year and took its millionth gross name through the co-op in early May.

Even so, Hayes characterized J. Jill's usage as still being in control test mode.

“We've seen the results get better over the six months we've been testing it, and as they keep adding names,” he said. “We're not anywhere near an impressive rollout yet, but that is our hope.”

Hayes would not give specific response data but said results were acceptable based on J. Jill's criteria.

Although J. Jill participates in the Abacus Alliance as well as Prefer Network, Hayes said comparing the two databases would be like comparing, “apples and oranges.”

The Prefer Network database, which was launched in January of 2001 with less than 20 members, now has 180 catalogers in the co-op.

Recent additions include catalog titles such as Avenue, Brylane Home, Brylane Kitchen, Chadwicks of Boston, Drapers & Damons, Home Focus, Improvements, Jessica London, King Size Direct, Lane Bryant, La Redoute, Lerner, Levenger, Monterey Bay, Newport News, Pendleton Apparel, Pendleton Home, Roamans and Vermont Country Store.

The database has 62 million households, which is comparable to Z-24's 65 million, Abacus' 90 million and I-Behavior's 55 million, Platt said. He argued that those 62 million households represent all the active catalog-buying households in the U.S.

“If you look at Z-24, they have 65 million households and Abacus has 90 million but they both have non-catalog participants,” he said.

Looking ahead, Platt expects the fall and holiday mailing seasons to be a time of continued growth for Prefer Network because of the low house file counts on many lists.

Many catalogers will look to cooperative databases to make up quantity for their circulation plans.

“Everyone is sort of waking up and saying, 'I don't have any names to mail,'” Platt said. “You have to find new ways to get names.”

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