January 21, 2004, 12:00 AM

Lillian Vernon’s new chief sees a bigger web role as he expands the brand

New president Jonathan Shapiro, whose hiring was announced this week, plans to boost the proportion of web sales at the 50+-year-old cataloger from its current 25% to 35%. And he plans to step up the web`s role as a testing vehicle for new product lines.

The web is about to become even more important to Lillian Vernon Corp. New president Jonathan Shapiro, whose hiring was announced this week, plans to boost the proportion of web sales at the 50+-year-old cataloger from its current 25% to 35% by the end of this year. And he plans to step up the webís role as a testing vehicle for new product lines.

Shapiro, a former McKinsey & Co. consultant and DoubleClick executive, will direct the company’s catalog and online businesses. He worked as a management consultant with Lillian Vernon Corp. and major stakeholder ZelnickMedia Corp. last year.

His objective with Lillian Vernon will be to make the shopping experience "as easy as possible" for customers in whichever channel they choose: web, catalog, or phone, he tells Internet Retailer. . On the web, Shapiro says, Lillian Vernon will focus on opportunities for improvement in site navigation, look and feel; personalization, and merchandising including product mix. "In the personalization area, for example, even if you are a registered Lillian Vernon customer, right now the site doesn`t recognize you and log you in automatically. We`ll be making that convenience available in the future," he says.

He also plans to tighten up cross channel integration with planned new features such as allowing customers who place an order on the phone to track its status online. But Shapiro sees the web as more than a convenient order-taking mechanism, one indication of new thinking at the company since it was acquired by ZelnickMedia and Ripplewood Holdings LLC last April.

He notes that the web represents the perfect way to test products to ensure that Lillian Vernon’s offering is on target, building on tests last year that resulted in stationery items and Halloween costumes for adults ending up in this year’s catalogs.

"We think of the web as an opportunity to redefine the way we do direct marketing," Shapiro says. "Testing online is cost effective, and if it works you can easily roll it into the book. That’s a small example of how we are going to use the technology of the web to do traditional direct marketing better."

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