STRATEGIES: Catalog execs launch Prefer.com

Backed by Tweeds catalog founder Ted Pamperin and Delia’s founder Stephen Kahn, Internet portal Prefer.com went live on April 12. The site features advice columns by a series of lifestyle experts, such as food critic Mimi Sheraton and travel editor Karen Cure – content intended to steer visitors to 30 catalog Website links, including J. Jill, Design Toscano, Jackson & Perkins, and Omaha Steaks.

Cofounded by Doug Platt and Sydney Herman (who started The Daily Planet gifts catalog in the early 1990s), and investment banker Jeff Rosalsky, Prefer.com is aiming to become a major e-marketing solution for catalogers of home decor, fashion, pets, food, and gardening – all targeting upscale women, age 35-55. “Catalogs want to be e-commerce leaders, but they haven’t been as successful as they could be,” says CEO Platt. “For one thing, it’s expensive to set up a Website; second, it’s tough to drive consumer traffic. So we’re trying to create an outsource solution for catalogs that will drive additional traffic to their sites, build their brand, and distribute their products throughout the Internet.”

Platt notes that Prefer.com has “deals with high-traffic product engine Websites,” such as software provider Inktomi Corp., that has arrangements with 40 different portals, such as iwon.com, and go.com. Prefer.com is also negotiating with other high-traffic content-oriented Websites so the same brand message can be delivered through different ‘Net venues, Platt says.

Prefer.com also offers catalog participants a collaborative opt-in database that Platt likens to the Abacus co-op catalog database, except that all the information revolves around online transactions. “All retail catalog partners must contribute marketing and customer information to each other, facilitating a cost-effective way to prospect for new clients and target existing clients both online and offline.”

In addition to taking part in the database program, all catalog participants are required to place promotional package inserts in their regular catalog mailings. Prefer.com also plans to advertise in various print media, regional cable TV, and radio.

With all the recent reports coming out of Wall Street forecasting the doom of dot-com startups, does Prefer.com have a good shot? Don Libey, president of Philadelphia-based catalog investment banking firm Libey-Concordia, thinks of Prefer.com as a “classically organized site leading to a portal. It organizes a portion of the catalog world,” he says, so that online consumers can buy products. Above all else, Prefer.com is “basically an electronic cooperative catalog going one step beyond the inflight catalogs, such as Skymall, which brings product mixing and matching together.”

As a long-term success, however, Libey thinks Prefer.com has the “beginnings of an idea or the fingerprint of intent.” He’s unsure, however, of its ability to actually drive consumers to the site. “We’ll eventually find out whether they’ve found the magic formula,” he says.

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