Thursday, September 06, 2007

When is a magazine not a magazine?......

When it's actually a catalog!

To be honest, this new trend in retailer marketing showed up in my mailbox this spring in the form of the Liz Is. Then just this week what should appear in my snail mail but a copy of M, Macy's attempt to do a catalog in a magazine format.

In truth, they aren't the first to go this route. Lane Bryant has been publishing an actual on the rack magazine Figure targeted to their plus-sized customers for a while now. It is basically formatted the same as any general interest woman's magazine with fashion, heath, beauty, food etc sections. However, as you go through the magazine you start to realize that it only has one main advertiser - the stores owned by the Charming Shops, Lane Bryant's parent company, and it's fashion spreads only feature clothes from those stores.

Macy's M takes a similar tack, incorporating feature articles - Trends, community focused info (this issue had info on museum passes), how-to articles (How to wear tips, how to choose a bra) with a more than generous wrapping of "ads" for brands carried at Macy's. They even have those obnoxious perfume sample cards that dutifully fall out - just like an on the rack fashion mag!

Liz Is takes a more focused tack. In some ways it's not so much a magazine as a info piece for the woman who is already a Liz C. customer. Carefully tailored with a kind of minimalist vibe, it is actually fairly article heavy (tips for buying art, book suggestions from "brainy" women - i.e a brain surgeon, a rocket scientist - yeah that's right, a rocket scientist - an interview with a career coach and a great, fun timeline of women's fashion in the workplace) along with behind the scene stuff - an intro to Richard Ostell the new LC group VP and Creative Director via a makeover of a freelance writer. Make no mistake, LC's clothes are featured throughout - what do you think that makeover babe is wearing? - but it's done with some 'elan that doesn't shout at you.

What to make of all this?

Well, certainly in part, it is an attempt by all three to communicate more directly with their customer base as well as potential customers. M appears to be sent out to current Macy's customers - I didn't see anywhere to subscribe to it on the M website - however, you can view the whole mag-cag right there online and you can subscribe for e-mail notifications on new issues. Anyone who goes to the Liz C. site can find the link to the magazine site right on the front page and can subscribe. Figure is sold not only in bookstores but in all Lane Bryant stores as well.

In the case of Figure, it can also be seen as filling a need for the customer - there isn't any other on the rack magazine published today that focuses on fashion for the plus size woman (BBW having sadly folded long ago).

And lets face it, it's a great way to bypass the third party fashion rags and get your story about what you offer directly to the customer.

All in all, I think it can be a good thing for the fashion consumer - especially since both the Liz Is and M are free. (Figure is not, but as stated above they are serving what continues to be seen as a "niche" business - as the only game in town, they can afford to charge.) As long as you stay mindful of the agenda involved with these efforts, you can partake of some decent writing and a bit of fashion advice on the cheap!

It will be interesting to see how many others in the fashion retail business follow suit.

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