Vogue magazine launched an unusual Web site this week that lets people shop by clicking on shoes, lipstick and other goodies featured in the ads of its annual fall fashion issue. The site links shoppers to places where they can buy such luxuries as the Fendi fur cape shown on page 363 -- or just discover that it costs $26,500.
An advertiser stampede to participate in Vogue's shop-the-Web experiment produced the fattest issue in the magazine's 112-year-history -- 832 pages, including 648 filled with ads. About 480 have "shoppable" counterparts online at www.shopseptembervogue.com.
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"Magazines have always been interactive and transportable,'' said Thomas A. Florio, publisher of Vogue. "What we have done is make them actionable in real time. That was one thing that was missing."
Vogue appears to be at the vanguard of a revived effort by publishers to extend the usefulness of their products online. The latest experiments are prompted in part by worries over competition from comparison-shopping sites and Web search engines such as Google, which have pioneered new forms of advertising tied to search queries.
A similar point-and-shop experiment rolled onto the Web last week at Shopetc.com, a companion site to Hearst's new Shop Etc. magazine for shop-aholics. But unlike Vogue, which Web-linked only its advertising, Shop Etc. linked the content of its articles to help people purchase items mentioned.
Magazines are not the only printed media trying to make themselves more useful online. A group of newspaper companies introduced a site last week called ShopLocal.com, which publishes information about neighborhood store sales culled from retail ad circulars in newspapers. Enter your Zip code online and ShopLocal.com will display a searchable list of stuff on sale at nearby stores. The site was created by CrossMedia Services Inc. of Chicago, which is jointly owned by newspaper giants Gannett Co., Knight Ridder Inc. and Tribune Co.
"Our mission is to help consumers use the Internet for shopping locally," said CrossMedia Vice President David Hamel. "Most of us don't actually buy things online. We use the Internet to do research and then we go to stores to make the purchase."
ShopLocal may have an interesting mission -- who wouldn't like a handy list of everything on sale locally? -- but the site is so cluttered and clumsily designed it is not likely to draw a big audience. Web users are already accustomed to making price and product comparisons at sites such as Shopping.com and PriceGrabber.com. ShopLocal doesn't measure up to those, offering sketchy descriptions about what's on sale rather than linking to full details about products.
Hearst's Shopetc.com is slightly more intriguing. The site takes the magazine's best articles and lets readers click on featured items to learn more or to purchase them. But the site has a haphazard feel since not all the print articles are included online. Worse, its point-and-shop navigational system is messy, with ugly pink "buy" buttons plastered across each item for sale, and annoyingly long lists of all the "shoppable" items on the right side of each photograph.
Of the three sites, Vogue's seems to work best. It has a clean, simple design. While there are nearly 500 ads online, the site doesn't force people to scroll through them or enter a page number to find what they are looking for. Instead, pull-down menus let visitors browse by brand name, store name or a product category, such as cosmetics or apparel.