Catalog companies squeeze a whole mall onto a CD-ROM

January 11, 1994|By Lisa Wiseman | Lisa Wiseman,Contributing Writer

Your best shopping companion these wintry days may be your personal computer, now that the catalog has gone digital.

"En Passant" is the name of an Apple-compatible CD-ROM that stores 21 different catalogs on a single disk. Like most catalogs, it arrived unannounced in the mail to 30,000 unsuspecting consumers late last year.

It holds more than 600 megabytes of data, about the equivalent of 400 standard 3.5" diskettes, which allows "En Passant" to deliver more than just photos and descriptions of products.

It keeps track of purchases on an order form and will search quickly all 21 catalogs for a specific item such as "things for the home" or even "green sweaters under $100."

Want to know if the blue shirt really goes with the yellow skirt? Change the colors of the outfit right on the screen.

The disk also includes dozens of audio descriptions of products and short movies on topics ranging from a history of the Lands' End company to fashion tips and management techniques.

"En Passant" was developed by Apple Computer Inc., Redgate Communications Corp., which specializes in interactive media, and EDS, a telemanagement and computerized customer service company.

The first edition was designed only as a test, and all catalog companies will stop taking orders from "En Passant" users on Jan. 31.

Apple hopes to start putting out the catalog quarterly and also develop a version for Windows users.

Patrick J. Connolly, senior vice president of mail order for the housewares company Williams-Sonoma, is happy with the results from the test.

"It's a pretty slick way to do business," he says. He thinks the CD-ROM catalog could someday replace the print version.

Jack Van Amburg, a designer in Bethlehem, Conn., used "En Passant" to do a little Christmas shopping.

His wife used the disk to compile her wish list, so he was able to get the right sizes and colors.

"It really made it easy for me," he says.

His only complaint was that customers had to call a 1-800 number to place orders.

He hopes that the catalog will eventually let customers connect to companies on-line using a modem.

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