February 4, 2004, 12:00 AM

Shooting for 50% at Lillian Vernon

Lillian Vernon Corp. brought on Jonathan Shapiro, who worked as a management consultant with Lillian Vernon and major stakeholder ZelnickMedia Corp. last year. He is aiming to move 50% of sales to the web from 25% today.

Internet Retailer

Lillian Vernon Corp. went inside, sort of, for its new president. The company last month brought on Jonathan Shapiro, who worked as a management consultant with Lillian Vernon Corp. and major stakeholder ZelnickMedia Corp. last year. Shapiro, a former McKinsey & Co. consultant and DoubleClick executive, will direct the company’s catalog and online businesses.

Though Lillian Vernon, like many marketers, has suffered in recent years in a tough retail climate, web sales have been a bright spot, soaring from less than 10% of sales three years ago to more than 25% currently. Shapiro sees enough upside to set the target at at least 35% of total sales by the end of the year, on the way toward a long-term goal of more than half of total sales in the future.

That’s part of his objective of making the shopping experience “as easy as possible” for customers in whichever channel they choose: web, catalog, or phone. As to web sales, Shapiro says Lillian Vernon will focus on opportunities for improvement it’s identified in the areas of 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 50-something brand since it was acquired by ZelnickMedia and Ripplewood Holdings LLC last April.

If successful marketing and merchandising starts with the right product mix, the web represents the perfect way to test products to ensure that Lillian Vernon’s offering is on target, Shapiro says, noting that it’s already started doing so. Stationery items and Halloween costumes for adults, for example, two lines that tested well online last year, will be in this year’s catalogs.

“We think of the web as an opportunity to redefine the way we do direct marketing,” says Shapiro. “Traditionally, a catalog would have to devote page space to testing new items, but 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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