Finding the Right Blouse With Your Mouse

Media Morph: Desktop Catalogs

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NEW YORK ( -- Every week Ad Age Digital's Media Morph looks at how emerging technology is changing the way consumers get their information and media companies and advertisers present their messages. This week: Desktop Catalogs.

Anthropologie desktop catalog
WHAT IT IS: A bet that the boutique of the future will live directly on your desktop. Allurent, a small technology shop based in Cambridge, Mass., has been testing Desktop Connection, a prototype meant to augment and eventually replace a piece of the catalog business. "Paper catalogs are an environmental disaster," said Joe Chung, CEO of Allurent. "That was really the premise -- finding ways to mitigate that."

HOW IT WORKS: The application allows consumers to browse, shop and interact with a retailer's products directly on their desktops. It acts like a podcast, Mr. Chung said: Additions of new sales or collections prompt users to accept updates. To complete a purchase, consumers are taken to a browser. Shoppers can attach notes to items for future reference and organize products by shade using a color wheel. One feature lets users import pictures of items, then use the color wheel to find items that are the same color.

WHO'S USING IT: Anthropologie, a division of Urban Outfitters, served as the guinea pig for the application, which was largely bankrolled by Adobe (the application was developed on Adobe's AIR platform). In the Anthropologie pilot, Mr. Chung said, well over 20% of users preferred Desktop Connection over a paper catalog, and there were generally good response and interaction rates. Sales data for the pilot was not available.

THE RECEPTION: The company has received serious interest from retailers in the U.S. and abroad, and Mr. Chung envisions that consumers eventually will digitally subscribe to a number of catalogs all aggregated on their desktops. But it's likely to be adopted first by a stand-alone retailer that would allow consumers to opt out of receiving paper catalogs as part of an environmental pitch. While the economy could slow investment in technology like this, it also forces companies to take a closer look at cost cutting, and there is a strong business case for cutting catalog distribution.
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