Vogue magazine launched an unusual Web site this week that lets people shop by clicking on shoes, lipstick and other goodies featured in the ads of its annual fall fashion issue. The site links shoppers to places where they can buy such luxuries as the Fendi fur cape shown on page 363 -- or just discover that it costs $26,500.
An advertiser stampede to participate in Vogue's shop-the-Web experiment produced the fattest issue in the magazine's 112-year-history -- 832 pages, including 648 filled with ads. About 480 have "shoppable" counterparts online at www.shopseptembervogue.com.
"Magazines have always been interactive and transportable,'' said Thomas A. Florio, publisher of Vogue. "What we have done is make them actionable in real time. That was one thing that was missing."
Vogue appears to be at the vanguard of a revived effort by publishers to extend the usefulness of their products online. The latest experiments are prompted in part by worries over competition from comparison-shopping sites and Web search engines such as Google, which have pioneered new forms of advertising tied to search queries.
A similar point-and-shop experiment rolled onto the Web last week at Shopetc.com, a companion site to Hearst's new Shop Etc. magazine for shop-aholics. But unlike Vogue, which Web-linked only its advertising, Shop Etc. linked the content of its articles to help people purchase items mentioned.
Magazines are not the only printed media trying to make themselves more useful online. A group of newspaper companies introduced a site last week called ShopLocal.com, which publishes information about neighborhood store sales culled from retail ad circulars in newspapers. Enter your Zip code online and ShopLocal.com will display a searchable list of stuff on sale at nearby stores. The site was created by CrossMedia Services Inc. of Chicago, which is jointly owned by newspaper giants Gannett Co., Knight Ridder Inc. and Tribune Co.
"Our mission is to help consumers use the Internet for shopping locally," said CrossMedia Vice President David Hamel. "Most of us don't actually buy things online. We use the Internet to do research and then we go to stores to make the purchase."
ShopLocal may have an interesting mission -- who wouldn't like a handy list of everything on sale locally? -- but the site is so cluttered and clumsily designed it is not likely to draw a big audience. Web users are already accustomed to making price and product comparisons at sites such as Shopping.com and PriceGrabber.com. ShopLocal doesn't measure up to those, offering sketchy descriptions about what's on sale rather than linking to full details about products.
Hearst's Shopetc.com is slightly more intriguing. The site takes the magazine's best articles and lets readers click on featured items to learn more or to purchase them. But the site has a haphazard feel since not all the print articles are included online. Worse, its point-and-shop navigational system is messy, with ugly pink "buy" buttons plastered across each item for sale, and annoyingly long lists of all the "shoppable" items on the right side of each photograph.
Of the three sites, Vogue's seems to work best. It has a clean, simple design. While there are nearly 500 ads online, the site doesn't force people to scroll through them or enter a page number to find what they are looking for. Instead, pull-down menus let visitors browse by brand name, store name or a product category, such as cosmetics or apparel.
I found Vogue's site slightly addictive. Even though I am no upscale shopper, I clicked on an Adrienne Vittadini leopard skirt, a diamond-lace Bebe camisole and pair of Sergio Rossi lizard pumps, then sat mesmerized by the descriptions and prices that appeared. The $1,030 Rossi shoes were not available in Washington, the site informed me, but the $49 Bebe camisole could be found at 11 area malls. As for the $200 Vittadini skirt, a "buy now" button invited me to purchase directly from Vittadini's Web site -- an option offered by some but not all advertisers.
All told, Vogue's shopping site contains details on 1,240 products and 780,000 retail outlets where they might be purchased. Prices range from $1.69 for a bottle of Evian water to $45,000 for a J. Mendel chinchilla coat.
Powering the site is software from a small Atlanta firm called Active8media. It uses patented technology for making digital replicas of print pages clickable online and giving advertisers a self-service system for editing the Web versions.
"We take consumers from the point of inspiration to the point of purchase," proclaimed Lee Davis, chief executive of Active8media.
Vogue's site is the latest in a series of attempts -- mostly ill-fated -- to allow advertisers to link their messages in print with Web sites. Two expensive flops that launched four years ago required consumers to hook up small scanners to their computers to read special codes or watermarks imprinted in magazines and newspapers.
If Vogue's simpler experiment succeeds, Active8media's technology likely will be welcomed by publishers eager to find ways to give advertisers more information about how print ads perform. That, after all, is part of the appeal of Internet advertising; it typically tells advertisers which part of their ads draws the most response from viewers when they click to get information. Active8media's software collects detailed click-through data, allowing Alberta Ferretti, for example, to learn whether more people seemed interested in its green satin mini-skirt, lapin fur jacket or pink silk chiffon blouse worn by the model in its Vogue ad. For its part, Vogue has hired an outside firm to analyze all the data.
"This is designed as a research product for the industry," Florio said. "We will learn from it and hopefully roll it out again with the March issue."
Some people might also like to have links online to the clothes featured in the articles, but Florio said it was too difficult to secure all the rights from the photographers and models required to make that happen. Because it was experimental, Vogue charged advertisers nothing extra to appear in Shopseptembervogue.com. But if Vogue decides to make shop-the-ads a regular feature, Florio said the magazine would eventually collect fees from advertisers to participate.
Leslie Walker, Washington Post. August 26, 2004
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