Uproar over the Country Store

ABOUT SIX MONTHS AGO, our copy editor pointed out to me that the venerable Vermont Country Store catalog had started selling sexual aids like intimate massagers and instructional videos. An unusual move for the old-timey goods merchant, I thought, but it didn’t really faze me.

Until February, that is, when the newswires were suddenly abuzz with reports about it, noting that many of the mailer’s customers were outraged to see such products in a “family” catalog. Many demanded to be taken off the mailer’s list.

That’s to be expected, given the company’s more conservative, senior-citizen core audience. But I was surprised that some industry watchers felt Vermont Country Store was making a mistake in straying from its niche.

I don’t see it that way. The cataloger is expanding its niche by selling a new line of merchandise to its customer base. And these are items its buyers may want and need, but would not know where to get — octogenarians aren’t going to hit the local lingerie or adult video/book shops.

But it’s not about what I think, or what consultants say, it’s about whether Vermont Country Store’s customers (the ones who aren’t demanding to be taken off the list) are buying its “intimate solutions.” And according to the cataloger, they are. Enough said.

ON ANOTHER NOTE, the last thing catalogers and Web merchants need today is something that’s going to create giant hassles and cost a lot of money. But that appears to be what’s in store with the new Payment Application Data Security Standard. (See page 37.)

Yes, PA-DSS sounds like the Y2K scare, but it has the potential to be worse, at least for merchants. Software expert Ernie Schell points out that many computer systems that were not retooled for Y2K were fine when Jan. 1, 2000, hit. This is different.

If your systems for processing credit card transactions aren’t PA-DSS compliant by July 1, 2010, you could lose your right to accept credit card transactions.

Try doing business without that.

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