Friday, September 18, 2009

What went wrong at Innovations?

I was reminded of my years at Innovations by getting a tweet about a Telegraph article listing '50 things that are being killed by the internet', with the Innovations catalogue at number 19.

Innovations was where – like many friends and colleagues in the home shopping industry – I learnt most of what I know about mail order and direct mail. The article got me thinking about what went wrong at Innovations. Can the internet be blamed for the fading away of this once ubiquitous brand?

Because Sharper Image, the American inspiration for Innovations, has also foundered, I suspect that the real problem is not the internet. Both catalogues had early success online; at Innovations we took the first secure online order in the UK, and Sharper Image pioneered full integration between channels.

But in both the UK and the USA the vast majority of innovative and exciting products are now consumer electronics or web based services. Few of these work as catalogue products; for example electronic dictionaries were a great product for Innovations but I don’t suppose anyone even makes them anymore. The modern pace of electronics development leaves catalogue production schedules in the dust, with new products being launched every few months. Headlines like ‘longest battery life’ or ‘most pixels under £X’ are almost impossible now because some new product has arrived in the months between the copy being written and the catalogue dropping. The production volumes required to make electronic products price-competitive mean that few importers can offer exclusives to catalogues. The final insult is the meagre profit margins, insufficient to cover expensive print runs, but enough to provide countless web only suppliers.

So I blame the demise of Innovations on plain technological progress, not the internet.

What do you think?

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