June 1, 2007, 12:00 AM

As the multi-channel mix evolves, Discovery closes its stores to focus online

At a time when more consumers are shopping through multiple channels, retailers are fine-tuning the emphasis they put on stores, web sites and catalogs. For Discovery Communications, that means closing stores.

At a time when more consumers are shopping through multiple channels, retailers are fine-tuning the emphasis they put on stores, web sites and catalogs. For Discovery Communications Inc., that means closing stores.

Discovery, best known for its more than 100 television networks including Discovery Channel and Animal Planet, announced last month it will close its 103 mall-based and standalone stores and lay off 1,000 employees, 25% of its work force.

“By eliminating our owned and operated brick-and-mortar storefronts, which are cost-intensive and complicated businesses, Discovery can focus its efforts on high-growth, e-commerce and licensing operations,” says David Zaslav, who took over as president and CEO of Discovery in January.

Consumers will still be able to buy Discovery products-including DVDs of its hit TV series Planet Earth and such specialty items as telescopes and a radio-controlled hammerhead shark for swimming pool fun-in retail stores. Discovery Communications will continue to sell Animal Planet-related items at 550 Toys ‘R’ Us stores and has a deal with Hudson Group to operate seven Discovery Channel Airport Stores in U.S. airports.

But the company will put its focus on selling merchandise via the Internet, television and catalog. The primary web site, DiscoveryStore.com, gets 12 million unique visitors a year, and e-commerce sales are up 144% this year over last, the company says.

Discovery says it posted record e-commerce growth and sales last year, but does not disclose those results. Internet Retailer estimates that Discovery Communications had $45.8 million in Internet sales in 2006, placing it No. 186 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, a 34% increase over $34.2 million in 2005.

Discovery’s decision does not mean many other retailers will close their stores, says analyst Patti Freeman Evans of JupiterResearch. “It just means they have never quite gotten the return from their physical stores they had hoped,” she says.

She notes that other media companies have launched store chains and then backed off. For instance, the Walt Disney Co. sold its 313 stores in 2004 to The Children’s Place Retail Stores Inc. and Time Warner retreated from a foray into selling merchandise through stores. m

don@verticalwebmedia.com

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