Stores battle publishers for online gift registries

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As more and more online publishing and content sites begin to infringe on the lucrative gift registry market, retailers who initially balked at the possibility of cannibalizing in-store sales are now hustling to catch up.

"They've got all this investment in bricks and mortar," said Jim Nail, senior analyst with Forrester Research. "They're wondering what would they do with these humongous stores if everyone wants to shop online instead? Like any industry that goes through a dramatic change, they don't seem to get the fact yet that if they don't eat their own lunch, someone else will."

Macy's West offers limited bridal registry abilities, such as letting customers look up registries online for couples who have registered already in stores west of the Mississippi. (Macy's East stores are not on the registry yet).


But later this year, it will add more capabilities so brides and grooms can register for gifts online without visiting a store. And more products will be added to the list of what can be bought online in the registry, said Kim Miller, director of Internet strategies at Macy's. So far, only a limited selection of gifts is available for online purchase.


With the more aggressive online moves, Macy's is not concerned about cannibalizing sales, because online customers are seen as bonus customers in areas without the retailer's stores, Ms. Miller said. Macy's online sales in 1997 jumped 400% over 1996 sales, she added.

While both online and offline registries tend to focus on weddings, a new registry in an emerging category is expected this week with BabyTalk magazine's BabyTalk & Shop site. The site is a partnership with Internet Gift Registries, which already coordinates Modern Bride's online wedding registry called the Wedding Network.

For the online content sites, gift registries provide a double revenue stream. They can sell advertising on a site with demographically desirable buying-minded shoppers; also, the sites can earn a commission or transaction fee for products sold on the site.


"This is something our readers can't find elsewhere on the Web, and there's a real revenue upside too," said John Hartig, president of the Parenting Group's BabyTalk. The publication does not have an independent Web site, but does provide content for Time Inc. New Media's Parenttime channel on its Pathfinder site and will link BabyTalk & Shop to and from Parenttime.

Some other content or publishing Web sites that have recently debuted gift registries are the Wedding Channel and Ucopia.

On the retail side, merchandisers like J.C. Penney Co. and Service Merchandise Co. have registries similar to Macy's, with limited capabilities. Registry information is online, but still requires a phone call or visit to the store for the initial sign-up, as well as gift purchases. A J.C. Penney spokeswoman said the company, like Macy's, is also working on expanding its offering to eventually let customers register, browse and buy online.


Mr. Nail said, "There will always be [physical] stores. But the stores will have to figure out what they can add in the service area to compete . . . because online wins hands down in convenience and is probably going to on price."

Copyright March 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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