When worlds collide

John Higgins is one of the top reporters covering the television industry. He’s also funny, smart, and a great schmoozer. What he’s not is a fashion plate. So why was he in a recent article in Allure, a glossy consumer magazine devoted to the latest lipsticks, the hottest haircolors, and the beauty tips of the starlet du jour?

Higgins was quoted in a story about how the home-shopping networks are shedding their image as hawkers of cubic zirconia and cut-rate Capodimonte to muumuu-clad couch potatoes. In particular, the article focused on how even affluent, fashion-forward consumers were buying high-end beauty brands such as Smashbox and Philosophy from cable-TV networks such as QVC and HSN.

Just a few weeks after the Allure article was published, the parent company of HSN announced its acquisition of Cornerstone Brands (see Mark Del Franco’s cover story “Cable access” for the details). When HSN acquired the Alsto’s catalog this past November, nobody thought twice about the deal. A purveyor of garden accessories and housewares, Alsto’s fit in well with HSN’s two existing print catalogs, Improvements and Home Focus, which also sell home and garden products.

But while several Cornerstone Brands titles, such as Frontgate, also sell home care products, storage solutions, and garden accessories, their offerings are generally more upscale. Is there an overlap between consumers who will pay $39.95 for a set of three polyurethane planters from HSN and those who will shell out $295 for Frontgate’s All-Weather Wicker Trash Can?

IAC, HSN’s parent company, apparently thinks so. It expects to feature products from several of Cornerstone’s high-end titles, including Frontgate and Garnet Hill, on the TV network as early as this summer.

In fact, upscale consumers are no longer the sole market for upscale goods. As Boston Consulting Group senior partner Michael Silverstein told Catalog Age last month (see “Luxury lives” in the March issue), moderate-income Americans do splash out on higher-end luxuries. Meanwhile, Park Avenue socialites have been heard extolling the virtues of buying throw pillows at Target and frozen shrimp at Costco.

So the ladies who lunch are shopping alongside the minimum-wage-earning masses — not to mention logging on to the same URLs and phoning the same catalog and home-shopping network call centers. It’s the latest evolution of our “multi” consumer society: multicultural, multichannel, and now multiclass.

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