WEB MARKETING: Mailer turns portal

Concepts Direct launches BotWeb

What does multititle cataloger Concepts Direct have in common with BotWeb, a new catalog-focused online shopping portal? Each is the brainchild of Philip Wiland, chairman/CEO of Concepts Direct.

Wiland, who launched the Colorful Images stationery catalog in 1992 and has since launched gifts catalogs Linda Anderson, Linda Anderson Collections, and Snoopy, Etc., feels that “many consumers and catalogers are frustrated with the quality of search results at the current portals. The catalog industry clearly needed a portal that places emphasis on direct marketing.” To that end, $84.8 million Concepts Direct invested nearly $5 million in developing the BotWeb portal, which at press time was slated to go live in early December.

BotWeb reviewers grant “Best of the Web” citations to e-commerce sites in 44 product areas, including apparel, crafts, and pets, taking into account criteria such as download times, depth of content, and service.

But even catalogers that are not deemed the “best” can still be featured on BotWeb. The site has a “suggest a Website” feature, where catalogers can make the reviewers aware of their existence. BotWeb, however, sells online advertising only to those companies deemed Best of the Web.

The key to BotWeb’s success, however, will be making consumers aware of the portal. And Concepts Direct is using direct mail to get the word out. In December, the Longmont, CO-based company plans to mail 200,000 copies of a 48-page directory of BotWeb’s catalog participants; it plans to mail another 400,000 a week in early January, and an additional 750,000 in early March. Recipients will be known catalog buyers from rented lists and Concepts Direct’s database, Wiland says.

In terms of the prospects for its success, “BotWeb is going up against some tough competition that has already established itself,” says Ken Gassman, senior vice president/retail analyst at Richmond, VA, investment bank Davenport & Co. But he also notes that on the plus side Wiland “has created a second-generation portal that is similar to a niche retailer attempting to target selected consumers, rather than trying to be all things to all people.”

As Kevin Silverman, senior vice president/senior analyst at Chicago-based investment firm ABN Amro, says, if BotWeb “becomes a better search engine than others and is able to drive traffic to its site as well as to other merchant sites, catalogers would definitely want to be involved, and it should prove successful.”

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