Thursday, 28 May 2009

An email idea to steal

Received an email from knitwear cataloguer Brora that I loved: "We noticed you haven't bought from us yet..." read the subject line. The message itself was also straightforward: "We are really proud of this season's collection yet we don't seem to have tempted you to buy from us. Tell us why and we will send you a personalised discount code giving you 15% off your next order."

Embedded was a link to a page asking why Ihaven't purchased, with several replies to choose from, including "I couldn't find anything I liked in the latest collection", "Remind me who you are?", "I didn't enjoy my last experience", and the box I ticked off, "I am saving my pennies right now". There was also space left to add a comment.

I entered my response and within seconds received an email from Brora with my discount code.

What's so great about this effort: 1) It shows that Brora cares about my opinion and my custom; 2) It enables Brora to gather critical customer info very inexpensively; 3) It creates an additional point of contact with the customer; 4) It's so simple, for company and customer alike.

And yes, when I get home tonight I will revisit the Brora website, discount code at hand.--SC

Call, don't click

Conventional wisdom states that anyone selling a product or service should make it as easy as possible for the customer to purchase, from as many media and channels as possible. EMC Advertising Gifts is gambling that the conventional wisdom is wrong, at least for its business.

In a press release for the latest version of its website, the promotional-products cataloguer enthuses about its improved search engine, more user-friendly navigation, and cleaner design--the usual fare. Then it mentions that customers can no longer order directly from the site.

“We have decided to drop online ordering for the moment in favour of encouraging our customers to get in touch with us by phone, email and through our online quote and sample request form," the release states. "This way we can offer our promotional gifts expertise to ensure the customer is getting the best deal available and the most suitable product for their budget and their promotion."

Customers can order by phone, fax, or email, as well as request a quote via a button on each product page. What they cannot do is order 25 pens or keychains by clicking a button, dropping an item into the shopping basket, filling out a form that includes name, address, payment details, and the verbiage they want engraved or embossed on the product, hit "send", and wait for an acknowledgement.

Perhaps EMC didn't receive many orders online anyway, so it figured it could safely remove the option. Or perhaps every order it received direct from the site was problematic, requiring its customer service reps to phone back anyway. If that's the case, though, might EMC not have been better off simplifying its order process? Or maybe strongly encourage customers to phone, fax, or email but nonetheless retain the ecommerce option for those with simple orders, repeat customers, and people who really, really, really prefer to order online, to the point that they'll seek out another vendor that allows them to do so.

Then again, a visit to a half-dozen or so of EMC's competitors showed that online ordering is the exception rather than the rule in this market sector. So perhaps the personalisation involved makes ecommerce impractical. All the same, I can't help but feel that if EMC had managed to make it work, rather than giving up the ecommerce ghost, it could have used the online-ordering option as a way of setting itself apart from its myriad competitors.

If I may add one more carp: The EMC logo across the top of the site's web pages is not clickable. Selecting it will not take you back to the home page, as is the standard for websites these days. It's one thing to buck convention for a reason; it's another thing to simply be contrarian or decide that best practice doesn't apply to you.--SC

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Tell me more

With a nod to our regular contributor Herschell Gordon Lewis, a recent email from apparel cataloguer Joe Browns was met with the reaction “Huh?”
“Huh?” because half-way down the email in between “bright and breezy” womenswear and “men’s festival fashion” was a banner ad promoting 5 percent off and free shipping at entertainment etailer CD Wow.
“Huh?” because there was no explanation, anywhere, of this partnership. I’m used to emails that say “we’ve teamed up with our friends at…” but there was nothing here to tell me what Joe Browns has to do with CD Wow or for how long this promotion has been running.
“Huh?” because when I clicked through to the CD Wow site I saw my discount automatically applied and a Joe Browns logo but still no further details.
And “Huh?” because Joe Browns seems only to be promoting this partnership within its emails. I couldn’t find any further information on the Joe Browns website, blog, or catalogue.
Yes, as Herschell often writes, the web is price-driven. But is our attention span so short and so focused on getting the best deal that retailers can now leave out all the other details from selling copy? I, for one, hope not.—MT

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

"Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside..."

Reading the latest email from Kew nearly made me spit out my tea. There wasn’t anything particularly bad or funny about it. In fact, it was well laid out, lovely pictures and best of all typo-free. So why did I scoff at the offer? Well, having lived in north Devon for quite a few years I know how important tourism is to the local economy. I also watch The Apprentice and saw the candidates’ efforts at rebranding Margate. There’s a fine line between marketing a town as a hotspot and making it sound like a dump. The email from Kew unfortunately leant toward the latter with its competition to “Win a retro weekend break to the Isle of Wight”.
Retro is another word for saying old-fashioned and rubbish, isn’t it? It’s postmodern and ironic to mean something that is so bad it’s good. I certainly hope that’s not what Kew was aiming for. I have never been to the Isle of Wight, and I’m sure it has a lot to offer. To promote it as retro seems a little unfair.

I don’t know who actually goes on these expensive “retro” holidays (though I do realise Kew is offering it as a prize)—it reminds me of an article I read in the Sunday Times called My Posh Camping Disaster in Devon. On the plus side though, at least it's encouraging people to holiday in Britain and that can only be a good thing. Still, if I really wanted a retro holiday I could just as easily grab a bucket and spade and head down the beach. Retro, feh!—MT

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Wrapit cofounder offers some whine with that cheese

It's a good thing Pepita Diamand has told the Daily Mail that she "can live without the businesswoman-of-the-year accolades". Because after this interview, it's a safe bet she won't be getting any.

Diamand was a cofounder of Wrapit, the online gift registry that went bust last summer. According to the Mail, 72,000 wedding guests and 20,000 weddings suffered when paid-for gifts were never delivered. 

But while Diamand is more than happy to take credit for creating Wrapit ("I saw an opportunity to sell sexy housewares in a new way"), apparently its demise had nothing to do with her. 

No, much of the blame goes to the company's bank ("They believed we were in trouble – when in fact we had a business plan that would have enabled us to pay our suppliers and deliver the gifts. It was despicable"). And the rest goes to her cofounder, Peter Gelardi. Yes, she was regularly briefed on the financials of the business, just like the other company executives. But "whenever I voiced my concerns to Peter or the other three gentlemen on our board I was dismissed. They always said we’d make a profit the next year. Peter and I had screaming matches but, ultimately, I believed him. I was 20 years younger than three of the others and had no experience of setting up a business". Gelardi had plenty of business experience all right: According to the Mail, he "had resigned from eight companies between 1991 and 2004 – one of which was put into administration".  Not that Diamand knew anything about that, she says. Due diligence? Feh.

Poor Pepita (and yes, the Mail refers to her by her Christian name throughout the article, while the men are addressed by their surnames). She tried. But the mean old men wouldn't let her do what she thought was right. She was as much of a victim as the Wrapit customers. Not only did she lose all her savings in the venture, but her marriage had withered several years prior, because of all the hours she was putting into the business. You know how women can't be successful in business and maintain a relationship. 

What did Diamand do? She "bawled [her] eyes out" in front of a supplier who accused her of lying about Wrapit's financial duress, and proceeded to "cry solidly for three days". Women, eh? Only when Gelardi announced in March that he was helping to launch a new online endeavor did Diamand dry those tears, step back into her four-inch stiletto shoes, and get back to work. "She is now doing consultancy work," according to the article, "and is soon to launch the gastronomy website, which will eventually sell tableware."

So after going to great pains to proclaim her innocence on the grounds of naivete, and providing plenty of fodder to those who believe women simply weren't made to run businesses, or at least the noncreative aspects of them, she wants support for her new venture? She doesn't even trot out the usual guff about having learned from her mistakes. Even though that she has clearly learned the art of taking no responsibility for her actions.--SC 



Friday, 22 May 2009

A buzzworthy email

Okay, this email from children's merchandise cataloguer Vertbaudet isn't revolutionary. But it is cute, and as some of you may know, I am a sucker for cute. Besides, the graphics and the text tie together well ("Beeee happy! 35% off..." "Heard the buzz about Spring Bank Holiday?"), and though you can't tell from the screen grab, the wings of the bee flutter adorably. Given that I'm bee-phobic, this is high praise indeed.--SC

Thursday, 21 May 2009

A howl of a product

Still not convinced that user reviews can boost traffic to and sales on your website? Then consider the current best-selling apparel item on the Three Wolf Moon t-shirt.

You won't see this shirt featured in Vogue or in Harrods; as blogger Michael K of Dlisted (where I came across this marvel) writes, "don't act like you've never worn this shirt with denim cut-offs and wedge sandals while working the ho stroll in Panama City Beach, FL". Even Homer Simpson wouldn't wear this T, though Cletus definitely would.

The only reason this item could possibly have topped Amazon's apparel list has to be the product reviews--319 and counting.

A sampling: "After checking to ensure that the shirt would properly cover my girth, I walked from my trailer to Wal-mart with the shirt on and was immediately approached by women... The women that approached me wanted to know if I would be their boyfriend and/or give them money for something they called mehth. I told them no, because they didn't have enough teeth..."

"I am a member of Parliment and bought this T Shirt on my expenses. Since wearing this in the House, I have had a strange longing for roadkill and burgers..."

"So I tracked my package before I left for work today and realized that it would be delivered around 1pm. Around noon I told my manager my dad fell off a ladder and that I had to leave work to take him to the hospital. Pulling out of Taco Hell all I could think of was 3 Woof Moon shirt and where to make the public debut, and that 3WM would give me the guts to ask Tonya the deep fry girl to a drive-in movie tomorrow..."

"Before the 3 wolves and moon t-shirt I was just a crazy cat lady wearing 'hang in there' kitten t-shirts. Now that I wear my 3 wolves and moon t-shirt people definitely take me more seriously. Especially that lady that keeps calling from the electric company. If I'm really lucky I'll have the confidence to leave the house soon too..."

If Amazon had censored the comments--and many of them are much too rude for me to repeat here--there's no way it would have sold so many of these shirts. So let's chalk one up to the power of unadulterated user-generated content. And when you have a few minutes, check out some of the other comments on the shirt's product page. Just don't blame me if you fall under the spell of the three wolves and find yourself howling at the moon.--SC

Hush's soft sell

So many retailers' enewsletters claim to include editorial content, but so few of them actually do. Most of the ones I receive are little more than offers for their products, praise for their products, and photos of their products.

Not so the weekly enewsletter from loungewear cataloguer Hush. Each edition is filled with recommendations about other companies that customers--fairly affluent women--might like, along with book and music reviews and the occasional recipe. Sure, Hush offers are mentioned, but down by the bottom. It's the softest possible sell (in keeping with a company called Hush, no?), and the generosity of the company toward other marketers with whom it is competing for a portion of consumers' disposal income (even if the other merchants aren't selling loungewear and jammies per se) makes you want to do business with Hush, if only to reward niceness. Well, that's not the only reason--the merchandise really does look soft and comfy and lush.--SC

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

A word on wine

I received a special discount offer from The Sunday Times Wine Club. Admittedly, I know nothing about wine but something bothered me about the mailing. The club told me I could “Save £55 on 15 delicious wines!” Hmmm…delicious. I asked one of my wine-drinking friends—the one who boasts a cellar containing more than 300 bottles—whether his wines were delicious. That’s not the word he would use, he said. And not the one I would choose either. So what word should The Sunday Times Club use instead? Delightful? Flavoursome? Sumptuous? Tempting? Just thinking about it is giving me a headache.—MT

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

No expense spared

As the MPs’ expenses scandal rumbles on, the latest to emerge from the Commons is that Michael Martin is set to become the first speaker to be driven from office since 1695 for his lack of leadership during the crisis. Quick to turn the scandal to email marketing gold was shopping portal MyDeco, which last week invited readers to “live like an MP—expense everything”.
In a begging letter to boss Brent Hoberman, the MyDeco folks asked for more modest items—they don’t need £9,000 to remove moles from the lawn, or £2,200 to clean the moat. Instead a laptop bag, a trampoline, and some mugs made their wish list. The more pricey items were expensed as necessities because “For under £1,000, I’ll get 30,000 cups of coffee--bargain! The extra work time I’ll gain by not popping out for a Costa fix MORE than makes up for the hefty price tag” and “I just can’t work when my desk is messy, and these drawers would make me much more productive!”
I thought I’d see more of these lists from multichannel merchants quick to spot a selling opportunity but so far MyDeco is out there on its own. To keep it company Catablogue e-business has come up with its own expenses form. Here's what we'd like
Miri—a new Apple Mac
Sherry—a fizzy drinks vending machine (for a neverending supply of Diet Coke)
Pauline—a relaxing massage chair
Tim—a leather sofa (for when meeting deadlines gets too stressful)
Steve D—a barbecue ("for staff parties in the summer")
Steve S—a diamond-encrusted calculator… well he is our financial controller. And after all, someone has to foot the bill.--MT

Linking in to web 2.0

Web 2.0 can be exhausting, no? So many channels to maintain, and so many to follow. In the spare seconds between editing our print magazine, Catalogue e-business, and putting together our enewsletters, and updating our website (, and of course writing for this blog, and posting to our Twitter feed (, I sometimes wonder if all the effort is worthwhile.

So what did I do last Friday afternoon? Implement another web 2.0 effort: the Catalogue e-business LinkedIn group. I emailed invitations to some of my LinkedIn contacts on this side of the Atlantic, my colleague Miri did the same, and we referred to it on our Twitter feed. I figured maybe half of those we’d invited would sign up, and that would be that.

So I was thrilled to see that before the weekend was out we already had more than 60 members. And a significant portion of them weren’t people we’d invited, but instead were LinkedIn contacts of our contacts, along with several who’d come via Twitter. A number of these people were new to both Miri and me, and so were perhaps new to Catalogue e-business as well.

My point? One, that social networking does indeed help you reach people you might not have been in touch with via your traditional channels as well as enable you to strengthen your relationship with your existing audience.

And two, that Catalogue e-business has a LinkedIn group, and I hope to see you on the membership list soon.--SC

Tough to stomach

In last week's Insight enewsletter, we included an article, "Seven tips for improving your email design", that discussed, among other things, why you should using meaningful alt tags for your HTML images. An alt tag is the verbiage that appears instead of a graphic that an ISP or email server is blocking. Too often the email designer simply uses the in-house label of the photo for the alt tag. That may simplify matters for the designer, but it can make for some unappealing reading for the email recipient. For instance:

The alt tag for the main image of this enewsletter, from a consumer magazine publisher, reads "Woman holding her stomach". I immediately envisioned a woman doubled over in pain, which did not put me of a mind to click through.

Then again, when I did click through (purely for journalistic reasons, of course), the actual photo--of a hand pinching several inches of flesh from a flabby torso--wasn't much more appealing.--SC

Sunday, 17 May 2009

The sorrow and the pity of poor creative

Looking through a small home decor catalogue I received this weekend made me sad. No, not because I don't have the budget to buy any of its wares (though now that I think about it, yes, that does make me a bit woebegone as well). What depressed me was the unfulfilled potential of the brand.

I'm not going to name the catalogue, because I don't want to shame an entrepreneurial effort. But after reading through the entire 36-page book I'd hazard a guess that the owner figured her expertise in merchandising and sourcing as well as her good taste in decorating were all she needed to produce a successful brochure. Alas, it isn't. 

Take the inside front cover: a lifestyle shot showing more than a half-dozen products in a room. The photo isn't high quality, however, so it's tough to make out the features of some of the items. And there's no key--no letter "A" next to an item that corresponds to the "A" next to the product copy. Making matters worse, one of the products--some sort of floor vase or candle holder, I think--is positioned next to the items that are for sale and is featured just as prominently, but it's not described. If it's not for sale, why is it displayed alongside the items that are?

Most of the pages that follow do include keying of the product shots to the copy, but the letters aren't always easy to find. Staring at one photo in search of "C", I felt like I was working on one of those "find the hidden objects" drawings that  appear on the paper place mats at child-friendly restaurants. 

A callout for one of the furniture ranges notes that it is "beautifully finished in black lacquer with a distressed edging detail". The photos are neither large enough nor clear enough that I could make out the edging detail, however. Before I consider paying £490 for a dining table, I want to see that distressed edging, to make sure it's not too distressed for my taste. 

Some of the products appear as silhouettes floating amid white space. This provides no sense of scale. A bamboo stool looks to be three-quarters as tall as an eight-shelf bookcase it appears opposite; looking at the dimensions in the copy, I see that it's not even one-third of the size. 

There's more: A lamp shade is described as "a beautiful gold", but in the photo it looks pink. A tablecloth is said to "come in two neutral colours", but only one shade is shown, and no names of the colourways are provided. Sometimes the upper right corner of a spread is used to show off what I assume is a popular product, in keeping with best practice for the use of catalogue hot spots, but on some spreads this precious real estate is wasted on a list of product dimensions and SKU numbers or on small, awkwardly cut-out photos of generic throws and coasters. A £535 armchair and a £760 sofa are together allotted one-quarter of a page--that may be the result of effective square-inch analysis in Bizarro World, but not here.

Often catalogues that get so many things wrong make me angry; I tend to take them as a personal affront, as if the creators intentionally went about insulting my intelligence and taste. But as I mentioned, this one made me sad. Because it's obvious that the products were lovingly selected and styled; that serious coin was spent on the paper stock; that the company really does aim to please ("We know you just can't wait to lay hands on your purchase, so we do our utmost best to despatch all orders within 24 hours"--how sweet is that?). And yet there's no way I'd take a risk in ordering one of these far-from-inexpensive items on the basis of this weak creative.--SC

Thursday, 14 May 2009

When delivery isn't delivery

"Express Delivery" declares the pseudo dot whack on the front cover of the summer catalogue from promotional products mailer 4imprint. Below that red headline is the declaration "1, 2 & 5 day service at no extra cost".

Wow, I thought, free next-day delivery. Impressive!

And it would be impressive, if that's what 4imprint meant by "express delivery". But on page 32 there are all sorts of conditions, no least this: "Express service production time does not include days in transit. We will guarantee to despatch your promotional products within 1, 2 or 5 days." In other words, it's not the delivery that's express, but the turnaround time from receipt of order--which to be fair includes personalisation--till despatch of order.

I can't decide if I feel misled or stupid. But either sentiment does not leave me inclined to order from 4imprint.--SC

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

An offer not to be sniffed at

Last time we blogged about swine flu as a marketing opportunity, we wondered how direct sellers were going to work it into their customer communications. We had to laugh out loud when Traidcraft posted this little gem on Twitter just a few moments ago: "With #swineflu worries mounting, if you’re looking for tissues, get ethical ones. Ours are on special offer." --MT

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

No mess here

"Online retailers are in a mess": That's the headline of a blog post that someone (okay, my boss) brought to my attention.

The blogger, Graham Jones, finds it "hard to see why people will flock online when they are deserting the bricks and mortar stores in their droves". Sure, some will migrate from the high street to the web in search of bargains, he concedes. But then he cites a recent study that says customer satisfaction with online shopping has declined and another report that consumers want more online payment options available to them.

His point about the need to offer site visitors an easy, enjoyable experience and myriad payment options is sound, of course. But his overall contention that, aside from price, there's no reason to shop online isn't.

Yes, the ability to easily source bargains online is a key reason shoppers buy online rather than in a store. But there's also the fact that because of the relatively low cost of entry for setting up a web store, speciality merchants abound. You want to teach yourself Estonian? Chances are you won't find a book or tapes at your local Waterstone's, but you will at Searching for a Marimekko Unikko cushion? M&S won't have it, but and and do.

There are two other reasons to shop online that Jones overlooks. (And given that he bills himself as an "internet psychologist", I'd expect him to be alert to these motivations.) One is the sheer convenience. Maybe some websites aren't that easy to navigate and order from. But for those who only find the time to shop at 9:30 in the evening when the kids are finally in bed or at 2 in the morning because of shift work, the convenience of ecommerce is unbeatable.

Then there's what I call the misanthropic factor. Some of us simply don't want to smile and nod at a salesperson or chat to an order taker if we don't have to. And thanks to the web, we don't have to. (Surely I'm not the only one who feels this way, right? Right?)--SC

Monday, 11 May 2009

Catalogue hotspots

Catalogue e-business has put together a “where’s where” of leading catalogue companies. Simply click here and you’ll find a map showing who is based where. The map is not exhaustive—for one thing, companies that do not have a print catalogue are not featured—so if you’ve a company you’d like us to add, let us know at

Friday, 8 May 2009

As seen on TV

Nice to see Pets at Home make the most of its TV appearance on The Apprentice this Wednesday. We were surprised to see the Cat Playhouse promoted in this email, though. If memory serves, the Pets at Home buyers weren't too keen and only bought 50 to trial at a handful of stores.
Still, at least they didn't put Alan Sugar's face on the packaging. Sir Alan didn't see the funny side when cosmetics retailer Lush, which featured in the previous episode, plastered his face on a cartoon bum promoting a sugar scrub soap. Spoil sport!--MT

The subtle sell

I like to think of myself as a bit of a film buff. So of course I was delighted when music and DVD etailer The Hut, which I am following on Twitter, started “tweeting” famous lines from films. There are no prizes for getting the right answer though—“the feeling of being right is all you need”—it told the first person to guess correctly. It promised a second helping at 12 noon, but it’s 2pm and I’m still waiting.
More consistent with its postings is PenguinBooks. All day it’s been asking its Twitter followers to guess literary quotes or famous first lines from books. Again, no prizes for being first, but a fun way to engage with potential customers nonetheless. And merchants can monetise this by linking to the film, or book, available to purchase on their sites. I’m waiting for The_Hut to play “name that tune”, but when will I get my work done?--MT

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Tempest in a D cup

So the Facebook group Busts 4 Justice has renewed its campaign against Marks & Spencer, claiming that by charging £2 more for bras sized DD cup and larger, the retailer is guilty of "blatant discrimination".

Discrimination is charging a black woman £2 more for the exact same bra as a white woman. Discrimination is allowing Christians but not Muslims into your store to purchase said bra. Discrimination is paying a woman £2 an hour less than a man for designing bras. Charging £2 more for what M&S, in a statement issued last July, said is "the specialist work to ensure the suitable level of support, innovation, and technology that goes into the [larger] bras" is not discrimination.

In the States it's common for retailers to charge a few dollars more for plus-size versions of regular-size apparel, ostensibly to cover the extra materials. I used to think that it was a bit ingenuous not to charge a few bucks less for petite versions (back when I still fitted into petite versions), but hardly discriminatary.

If Busts 4 Justice wants to boycott M&S, that's fine. But to call this "blatant discrimination" makes a mockery of the concept of discrimination and diminishes examples of true, and truly harmful, discrimination.

Lingerie cataloguer Simply Yours has the right idea, however: If you search for Busts 4 Justice in Google, you see a sponsored link on the top right column from Simply Yours with the header "We Love Busts 4 Justice!" The copy underneath reads, "Get 10% Off All Our Great FittingGorgeous Lingerie For Curvy Girls!" What a great way to quickly take advantage of a competitor's weakness.--SC

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Catalogue e-business May issue

If you’re a subscriber to our print magazine, Catalogue e-business, you should already have received your copy of issue 169. If you’re not a subscriber, here’s a selection of the articles you’re missing out on:

* Special focus on customer acquisition: off-the-page advertising, user-generated content, and affiliate marketing

* International: five tips on expanding into Europe

* Distribution: how to make the most of your warehouse space

* Q&A with: The Recycle Works founder Sylvia Hopwood

* Plus: the latest industry news, a review of the Handpicked Collection catalogue, Herschell Gordon Lewis on copy, and much more

To get Catalogue e-business magazine delivered every month, or for more information, contact Jill Sweet on 01271 866112 or

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Tip o' the hat to N Brown

At N Brown, as at so many other direct marketing firms, the number of inbound calls to the contact centre has declined as online orders have increased. At myriad such companies, this has resulted in redundancies amongst call centre staff. But not at N Brown, whose catalogues include Fashion World, Simply Be, House of Bath, and Jacamo.

In an article in Crain's Manchester Business, N Brown chief executive Alan White explains that rather than cutting staff, the company has trained them to conduct outbound telemarketing. By calling customers who haven't ordered in a while, "the outbound team brought in £40 million in the last full year, an increase of 35 percent," Crain's reports.

At a time when so many businesses are focused almost exclusively on cutting costs (and yes, we do realise that for a significant portion, that focus is all that prevents them from going under), it's great to see a major company like N Brown broaden its outlook to encourage growth. Is it a coincidence that, in contrast to many other apparel merchants, N Brown's annual sales rose nearly 11 percent and its profit more than 6 percent?--SC

Here, there, and everywhere

Last week I received an email from speciality womenswear cataloguer Petite Affair featuring the omnipresent visage of fashion stylist Gok Wan. "Gok Wan wants you... to take part in his new series!" the email trumpeted. Apparently Wan is looking for petite women to make over for the next series of his programme How to Look Good Naked, and what better way to find them than via a merchant specialising in clothes for those of us less than blessed in stature.

But when I see an email featuring Wan, I immediately think of the Simply Be catalogue, which caters to plus-size women and for which he designs a line of lingerie. N Brown, the parent company of Simply Be, even has a microsite,, devoted to the range. What's more, last week the Mirror ran an article headlined "TV's Gok Wan boosts mail order firm's profits" referring to how "magic flab-busting knickers designed by TV's Gok Wan pulled in £4 million of sales for mail order firm N Brown last year".

Will the average Petite Affair customer know, or care, that Gok Wan has a deal with a different catalogue brand? What about the average Simply Be customer? Perhaps not. But when a celebrity is affiliated with so many diverse brands, it diminishes his value to any one brand, in my opinion. It makes him seem less sincere, and therefore less credible.

As a fairly small brand, I suspect Petite Affair has more to gain than to lose by hitching a ride with Wan. But I'm surprised that Simply Be didn't insist on some degree of exclusivity in its contract with Wan.

Then again, maybe I just receive too many emails and that's why I have my knickers in a twist.--SC