Prefer Drills Down with New Database

Since launching as a Web portal in mid-2000, Prefer Network has spun off a print book and is introducing a co-op database.

A co-op member can select prospects based on the colors or sizes of the items they bought

Cooperative databases already allow catalogers to select prospects based on how many purchases they make and from which types of marketers. Now Prefer Network is launching a co-op database that it says will provide information about buyers’ purchases down to the particulars about the products they’ve bought.

The New York-based Prefer launched in mid-2000 as an Internet shopping portal. Its affiliates include women’s apparel marketers California Style and J. Jill, and gifts catalogers Eximious and Panache. Prefer plans to introduce the database on Feb. 15.

“Our transactional records for our 60-plus members go down to the SKU level,” says Prefer CEO Doug Platt.”If a marketer of women’s apparel wants to target a particular type of customer with a particular offer – for instance, presenting a red sweater to a petite female customer – it might be useful for [the business] to find all the buyers in our database who have purchased a size small or a size 6 and who prefer the color red.”

Prefer’s members cannot request names from a specific cataloger, however. For instance, they cannot mail to all buyers of sweaters from J. Jill.

Platt says the company is currently testing the SKU select with a number of its clients. expects to have more than 100 partners when the database launches next month.

SKU-ing the model?

Platt contends that being able to select prospects by the specifics of their purchases will improve catalogers’ response and eliminate wasted mailings. And detailed product selects can enhance an already rich database, says database consultant John Klein, president of the Cleveland-based John Klein and Associates division of The Pontis Group. “SKUs give you a deeper level of data, which can help you more precisely target your mailing as well as reduce the size of your universe.”

But not everyone agrees: “We’ve tested at the product level, but we’ve found that the benefit of knowing who has purchased a blue sweater vs. a blue shirt is minimal compared to knowing if a buyer prefers high-end apparel overall,” says Jonathan Shapiro, senior vice president of New York-based DoubleClick/ Abacus On-Line. The Abacus co-op database does not allow members to select by specific purchases.

Also, it’s not unwarranted to question whether members will be able to target buyers of specific catalogs by having access to additional variables, says Dean Jackson, vice president of Sperryville, VA-based women’s apparel and gifts mailer Faith Mountain Co. “Can a catalog get close to identifying a Faith Mountain customer based on the selects it chooses?” he asks.

Still, Jackson says that Faith Mountain plans to tap the Prefer database. “We have a test scheduled for next spring – but it doesn’t include product SKU selects from the detailed database.”

Another Dot-com Print Book Creating a new database isn’t the only thing Prefer Network has been working on. In October the Internet shopping portal launched a 48-page catalog that includes spreads from 23 of’s cataloger affiliates. Though David Smith, chief marketing officer for New York-based Prefer, won’t disclose the catalog’s circulation, he says the book mailed to a “combination of lists we rented, as well as to a small segment of our database.”

Smith says the catalog sells merchandise in four major product categories: apparel and accessories; home and garden; food and entertaining; and family and fun. Prefer also created a separate four-page outer wrap for a joint promotion with wedding Website The catalog was sent to prospective brides who had opted in to receive a package of coupons and wedding-related offers from TheKnot.

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