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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


Forbes Magazine

Pretty in purple

(5-3-99) -- This is the body of the announcement ...



April 20, 1999

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Technology
 Computers

When you shop the Web, what you see isn't always what you get. J.Crew hopes to solve that problem.

True color

By Nikhil Hutheesing

WHEN J.CREW PUT ITS CATALOG on the Web in 1997, its entire clothing line was easily accessible to millions of customers. Sales jumped, but one fundamental problem irked the New York-based cataloger: returns.

"When people come to our Web site, we want them to feel safe with their purchase," says Brian Sugar, director of new media at J.Crew, vowing to reduce the return rate, which he isn't about to specify. Why the problem? One reason lies in the distortions of color. There isn't a universal color standard on the Web—or in all of high tech.

So that lovely teal sweater on-line can turn out to be a less lovely shade when it arrives in the mail. A deep blue shirt may turn out to be sky blue; a pink stripe on a blouse could turn out to be purple.

J.Crew wanted a low-cost, simple fix that wouldn't require Web shoppers to download and install complex color-correcting software. "That would be too much of a schlep," Sugar says. Last fall he discovered a solution now being tested on the J.Crew site; a formal rollout is set for June. Other Web stores could follow.

The color code comes from Sonne-tech, Ltd., a tiny software firm in San Francisco. It has new software, known as ChromaServe, that resides on a company's Web server to tackle the color flaws that the rest of the industry has all but ignored.

Manufacturers of computer screens, graphics cards and software don't recognize a common approach to exactly what the color red should look like; each product skews colors in its own way. A printer takes its instructions from the operating system. But a monitor takes them from the graphics card. That means the colors you print may not be exactly the same as the colors that appear on your monitor.

The new software bypasses such inconsistencies. When you arrive at the Web site, ChromaServe queries your system and offers the ability to make color corrections by calibrating your monitor with just a few clicks of the mouse.

And once you have done that, a small piece of the software code stays behind in your PC. It then lets you know, each time you visit yet another Web site, whether that shop uses the ChromaServe scheme. Visit one that does, and your PC screen displays Sonnetech's icon, a globe with a colorful ring swirling around it. Click onto a site that doesn't use the ChromaServe technology, and the globe appears with a cross drawn through it. Ouch.

It isn't clear how kindly Web sites will view this, a kind of digital passing of judgment on their true colors. Sonnetech says it's simply trying to make Web shopping more reliable.

With the new software, calibrating your monitor is easy. You handle red, green and blue separately, each time by matching a color background against boxes of slightly different shades. You click on the one that best blends into the background, and the server software tunes its digital image files to your monitor.

The human eye does a good job at color-matching. "Our visual systems are terrible at determining the difference in sunlight at noon and at 1 p.m.," says Peter Engeldrum, a color scientist who helped create the product. "But we are very good at determining small differences when you compare them side by side, like whether colors match."

Sonnetech started work on color correction in 1994, aiming not for on-line but on-screen, simply ensuring that the colors on a computer monitor were the same colors that showed up when an image was printed out. That original version of the software, dubbed Colorific, has been bundled into more than 8 million graphics circuit boards, monitors and printers.

But with the rise of sales on the Web, going on-line was a natural progression. Sonnetech charges companies about $8,000 per month for ChromaServe, depending on Web traffic. William Hilliard, the company's chief executive, hopes to pull in $9 million in total revenue this year. Of that, $1 million will come from Web-related sales.

For J.Crew, the hope is that being one of the first to offer accurate color might give the company an edge in cyberspace. "When our customers order a pair of chinos and open up the box when it arrives," Sugar says hopefully, "it will be the color they expected."

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Read more:


May 03, 1999
Table of Contents:
Forbes
ON THE COVER:
Inside Intel

Deals
The Forbes Lunch: The mother of all deals

MANAGEMENT, STRATEGIES, TRENDS:
Media
If you can't join 'em . . .

Technology
Open sourcery

CHARTICLE:
Going postal

TECHNOLOGY:
The Internet
Counting eyeballs

Pretty in . . . purple

TV-on your time

DEPARTMENTS:
Side Lines

Fact and Comment

Digital Rules
Ten Laws Of Infinite And Zero

COLUMNISTS:
Backseat driver
Brand fallacies

Observations
Predatory prosecution

Point of view
Dollarize now

MONEY & INVESTMENTS:
Streetwalker

INVESTMENT COLUMNISTS:
The Contrarian
Profitless prosperity

Fixed Income Strategy
Junk is still cheap

Financial Strategy
Tech will rule

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