Spiegel CD-Rom Catalog Offers Mixed Results

Catalog shopping on CD-ROM is one of those great ideas that should be easy to accomplish - like tax reform or nutritious fast food - but which never seem to make the leap from talk to reality.

Most of the CD-ROM shopping catalogs I've run across suffer from two failings: They present a small number of items from a group of merchants rather than a complete selection from an individual retailer, and they rarely offer significant additional information beyond their print counterparts.

Spiegel Inc. has taken a big step in resolving my first complaint.

The new Spiegel Catalog on CD-ROM contains all of the company's 834-page "Big Book" for spring. It carries photographs and descriptions of 3,000 items, mostly home furnishings and women's apparel. It's the first time a major mail-order retailer has put an entire large catalog on CD-ROM for Windows or Macintosh.

But the Spiegel CD-ROM doesn't address my second gripe. The disk merely reproduces the print catalog, with a few extra snippets of narration and photographic montage sequences, instead of taking advantage of the CD-ROM's huge storage capacity to offer more pictures or text.

Still, regular Spiegel shoppers who have a CD-ROM-equipped home computer will enjoy flipping through the electronic catalog. And the price is right: You pay $13 but get a $13 credit on any Spiegel order.

The CD-ROM, released in mid-April, three months after the print catalog, is available in a few bookstores that also sell the print version. But the best way to find the CD-ROM is by calling Spiegel direct at (800) 345-4500.

What you get on screen is almost identical to the print catalog, with two main sections subdivided into chapters called "shops." "Fashion" offers 13 shops such as "Boutique Europa" and "Fine Jewelry," while "Home" provides 12 shops such as "The Bath" and "Time Pieces."

Clicking an arrow at the bottom of the screen moves you page by page through the merchandise. By clicking a picture on the screen, you summon an enlarged view and a text block with the item's description. A few items have an additional button to play a short audio clip.

The CD-ROM is hurt by poor photographic reproduction. The program only works with the monitor set to 256 colors, not the thousands-of-colors setting that provides more accurate rendering. The photographs on screen look washed out and grainy - a potential kiss of death for catalog merchants who rely on enticing photos to move merchandise.

There are only two features on the CD-ROM not found in the print catalog. A "personal shopper" presents a slide show of items in categories such as "guy gifts" and "romance" for those who need help deciding what to buy. And there is an electronic order form to keep track of the items you want, which can be printed or sent to Spiegel by modem.

Spiegel, which also owns the Eddie Bauer chain of outdoor clothing stores, has experimented widely with new media. It has tried everything from interactive television test projects to a new Web site at with some interesting magazine-like features.