Monday, 29 June 2009

Huh of the day

I am seriously considering making Huh of the day a regular feature on this blog. Today's Huh-- joining Joe Browns' unexplained CD WOW promotion and Pixmania's foray into fragrance--is from Borders.

With tenuous links like "Find your happily ever after..." and "Start a new chapter in your life..." Borders is moving into online dating.

I don't know about you, but to me it just seems a bit weird. A mismatch in matchmaking. As they say in dating, "I wonder how long this one will last..."--MT

Communication breakdown

Earlier this month I wrote about how Waterstone's managed to turn a customer service failing into a customer service win. Fashion cataloguer Gudrun Sjoden recently managed to do the same--except the failing shouldn't have happened in the first place.

On Saturday I tried to place an order on the Gudrun Sjoden website. When I came to the end of the checkout process, instead of receiving a message saying "thank you" or "your order has been processed", I was shown a screen of the home page. Uncertain whether my order had indeed gone through, I went to my email inbox; no confirmation message awaited. And when I returned to the Gudrun Sjoden site, my shopping basket still had my two items in it. So I went through the checkout process again, and again ended up with no confirmation, just a screen shot of the home page. This time, though, my basket was shown to be empty, so I emailed the company asking if my order went through.

Sunday morning my credit-card company rang to ask if I'd placed two back-to-back orders with Gudrun Sjoden. Well, at least I had confirmation that my order had gone through--but the confirmation wasn't from Gudrun Sjoden, and the confirmation showed that I was being billed twice. Later that day Gudrun Sjoden responded to my email, letting me know that yes, my order had been processed and I'd be receiving it within 10 days. I wrote back, asking about the double billing.

Late Monday morning I received another response from Gudrun Sjoden, reassuring me that I was being billed just the once. The wording was very professional, and I was satisfied. Sort of.

The thing is, in this day and age there's really no excuse for an ecommerce site not to end the checkout process with a confirmation screen. Likewise, there's really no excuse for an ecommerce site not to send an automatic email confirming the order and letting the customer know when to expect the goods. Nor is there really any excuse for a company not to immediately respond to an email query, even if it's just with a message along the lines of "Thank you for your email. Our customer service department is now closed, but as soon as it reopens we will respond to your query."

By failing to communicate with me properly, Gudrun Sjoden risked losing me as a customer, as well as risked my shouting throughout cyberspace about my dissatisfaction. What's more, it had to spend resources, in terms of customer-service manhours, in having two agents respond to me manually.

So many articles (including a number of those in Catalogue e-business) discuss advanced email tactics and ecommerce strategies. It's worth remembering, though, that such sophisticated enhancements are all for naught if you don't even get the basics right.--SC

Friday, 26 June 2009

Butcher, baker, candlestick maker?

What springs to mind when you think of Pixmania? I would like to wager that it’s not drills and lawnmowers, right?
Parent company DSGi describes Pixmania on its corporate website as “the only pan-European etailer of digital photographic and consumer electronic goods.” So why on earth has it branched out into garden products and power tools? It’d make sense if it could benefit from product synergies with a sister company but as far as I'm aware Dixons, Currys, and PC World all stick to their core business, not a hedge strimmer in sight.
In addition to tools and garden merchandise, Pixmania has also diversified into offering watches and jewellery, health and beauty products, and toys and games. Only one of those seems logical to me, and only if it were just selling computer games.
In the June issue of Catalogue e-business I wrote that multichannel retailers must Diversify or die, but there’s a flipside to consider, as Sherry pointed out in the Eddie Bauer post: Dilution = death. Where is Pixmania heading?--MT

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Cutting through the geek speak

All you wanted to know about IT but were afraid to ask:
Catalogue e-business will feature a Q&A with an IT and web support manager in an upcoming issue and is calling on readers to submit their IT-related questions. So if you're a cataloguer or online retailer and have been wondering what the difference really is between .php and .NET, please don't hesitate to ask.
If you'd rather put your question forward anonymously, you can email
We look forward to hearing from you!

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Timing is everything

To be effective, that is to encourage click-throughs and increase sales, an email has to be sent to the right people with the right message at the right time. Undoubtedly, that’s easier said than done, but there are some obvious pitfalls marketers can avoid. Something Field & Trek didn’t think of when it sent me an email called “Gear up for Glastonbury this weekend + New Garmin Oregon 300 Bundle!‏” on Wednesday, 24th June.
The Glastonbury festival starts Friday 26th June, with the majority of ticket-holders arriving tomorrow. How exactly does Field & Trek propose shipping tents, sleeping bags, and other festival basics before the first act takes the stage on Friday morning? Even next-day delivery wouldn’t make it in time.
It’s a nice idea Field & Trek, but you should have sent this email last week. A change of subject line to something more like Hurry! Order all your Glastonbury camping essentials today, and possibly the offer of free next-day delivery for orders above a certain monetary threshold, might have been a good move too. Just a thought.—MT

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Who (k)new?

Here at Catalogue e-business we receive dozens of catalogues every week. So when a new catalogue crosses our path of course we like to investigate and find out more about the company, its owners, their backgrounds, and the role the catalogue plays in the overall marketing mix.
A couple of weeks ago we received a catalogue that we’d never seen before--it will rename nameless for the purposes of this blog. The director’s letter on the inside front cover read: “…we have built a loyal following and are now delighted to launch a catalogue to complement our website.” All well and good, we thought. It might make an interesting story for the magazine, something along the lines of why it waited so long to move into print, and what finally persuaded it to mail a catalogue.
But upon contacting the company’s press officer I was told that the company’s catalogues “have been in print for a good few years now, so I’m afraid you must have seen an old one.” I don’t think so: The one on my desk is dated Spring/Summer 2009. When pressed further on the matter, the company told me it was “not interested in following through”.
I wasn’t going to run a Donal MacIntyre-type exposé on the business. This was a news piece on a catalogue launch. So why the secrecy? Is the catalogue new or not?—MT

Email we love: Lakeland

I always open my emails from Lakeland. Here’s why:

Great merchandise
On 22nd May Lakeland made housework look like fun by listing five labour-saving ideas to take the chore out of cleaning. Each idea had a timeframe, so you knew exactly how long each task should take. Also in the email Lakeland highlighted its favourite household innovations, I like the stamp that obscures details on personal documents. Lakeland calls it “risk-free recycling”.

Themed emails
A holiday-themed email was sent on 14th June. Promoting space-saving solutions to help when packing a suitcase and digital luggage scales to weigh the load. Non-selling copy included a fun “did you know” feature all about travel.

Added extras
The latest email, on 21st June, featured outdoor entertaining tips. As well as promoting cool bags and “party-proof glassware”, Lakeland also posted a recipe for mixing the perfect jug of Pimm’s. What more could you want?—MT

Friday, 19 June 2009

Get with the programme

Flicking through Telegraph Select, a catalogue of “lifestyle solutions for readers of The Daily Telegraph” I can tell that I am not its target customer. From the grandly titled “Revolutionary mother and child lamp” whose deluxe model comes with a remote control to “Shoes so comfortable, they could be slippers” it’s easy to work out the demographic it is aiming at. But whilst I can appreciate a need for many of the products and the benefits they might bring, one item strikes me as completely redundant. Can you think who might need the “TV and radio antenna” after digital switchover in the next few months? Is this Telegraph Select's last-ditch effort to shift stock that will be obsolete in less than a year? Yes, you can get radio on it too, but what radio these days doesn’t come with an AM/FM aerial? And if the built-in antenna is useless I’m sure you could pick one up for less than a tenner. For £12.99 you might as well splash out on a DAB radio (prices start at £14.99 for clock radios, I hear).
The question now is Telegraph Select, where is your range of antique-effect digital radios then?—MT

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Dilution = death

The news that Stateside cataloguer/retailer Eddie Bauer had filed for bankruptcy protection wasn't much of a surprise. What did surprise, however, is that according to the Wall Street Journal, it had sales of roughly $1 billion last year. That means an awful lot of people must like what Bauer stands for. For my part, I'm not sure what that is.

When outdoors enthusiast Eddie Bauer founded the company in 1920, it was as a sporting-goods shop. According to the company website, Mr Bauer patented the regulation badminton shuttlecock still in use today and the first quilted goose-down jacket in North America. So clearly the brand has plenty of outdoor cred.

But somewhere along the way the company branched out into selling casual apparel for both men and women, then workplace-suitable fashion. It even brought out a range of home furnishings and soft goods. Quite what Egyptian-cotton towels had to do with fly-fishing and camping in the Cascade Mountains is beyond me.

As Bauer extended its range, it also diluted its brand. Maybe the company founder had invented the goose-down jacket--but if you were a hunter, say, looking for a heavy-duty version, you were just as likely to buy one from L.L. Bean or Orvis or REI. If, on the other hand, you wanted a pair of comfy chinos or an unflashy polo shirt, you were just as likely to buy it from Lands' End or Gap. And if you wanted towels--hell, I don't know why anyone would buy towels from Eddie Bauer.

Each of the other brands I listed had a distinctive unique selling proposition. L.L. Bean: hard-nosed Yankee (as in New England rather than American) integrity, resulting in unparalleled quality and a legendary guarantee. Orvis: outdoor gear produced by outdoor enthusiasts for outdoor enthusiasts. REI: activewear for younger, eco-friendly outdoor lovers. You get the point.

But Eddie Bauer stood for... um, yeah, the quality was good, I guess, but not the stuff of legend like Bean's duck shoes. The service was fine, but not as remarkably accommodating as that of Lands' End. Bauer had become an also-ran.

During the past few years Bauer's latest CEO, Neil Fiske, made great strides in trying to return the brand to its outdoorsy roots. The company launched a range of heavy-duty winter outerwear and, to prove the hardiness of the line, sponsored an expedition to Mount Everest. Yet the home page of gives no indication of this, or at least not above the fold. Instead you see a sale promotion, a photo of a generic ocean, and alternating shots of a man and a woman donning rather bland casualwear.

The problem isn't that Bauer has been resting on its venerable laurels. Rather, it's that the company hasn't made enough of its laurels, nor has it decided what to rest upon instead.--SC

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Catalogue copy we love

Many things about the Niton Equipment catalogue make it less than easy to shop from: tiny type fonts, too many type fonts, nearly illegible reverse type against images, page layouts that defy eye flow, the lack of an index. Which is a shame, because the seller of equipment for law-enforcement and security professionals knows how to write copy that sells.

When selling gear that can literally save the customer's life, emphasising benefit is key. And Niton does just that, for virtually every one of its 3,500-plus products and all of its merchandise categories and subcategories. A few examples:

"Searching is an emotive task which requires tact and diplomacy. The use of a hand-held detector as part of your operational tasks can help to reduce the risks of confrontation. Hand-held detectors enable you to search quickly, thoroughly and professionally, thereby allowing you to concentrate on positive targeting for more in-depth searching, as required. Hand-held detectors have no gender factor; customers of both sexes can be searched by the operator." You can't spell out the benefits of this type of detector any more plainly.

The Pol-i-Veil "protects the identity of the prisoner, inmate or underage offender during transfers and protects the officer from being spat on"--certainly not something I'd have ever even thought about, and proof that Niton really knows its market. "...There is also the elimination of the trip-and-fall-in-police-custody hazard because the prisoner has 30% visibility out. It can also be used for full witness protection in and out of court rooms..."

"Niton wanted to test this new product [the Cooldanna, designed to keep users cool in hot weather] in the extreme, so we called upon a friend in the Household Cavalry, who was due for a trip to Iraq. In temperatures of 40 degrees-plus, it helped to keep him cool, and comfortable, and now he wouldn't be without it!"

Even something as seemingly simple as a dispenser for barricade tape gets the full treatment: "Dispense tape easily with one hand. Serrated edge cuts tape quickly. Notch secures loose end. No loose parts when reloading..."

If you're seeking an example of marketing copy that hits its target every time, you could do a lot worse than that of Niton.--SC

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Turning a frown upside down

My experience with Waterstone's is proof that by providing excellent service, a company can turn a problem into an opportunity.

The problem: On 22nd May I'd ordered two books from The Little Stranger and The Taste of Sorrow. The former was despatched within a few days; the latter, according to a follow-up email from Waterstone's, was out of stock but due in shortly.

I received The Little Stranger, completed The Little Stranger (a good read, not on a par with author Sarah Waters's earlier books like Fingersmith, but still worth buying in hardcover), and filed The Little Stranger in my bookcase. Still no Taste of Sorrow, nor any word from Waterstone's as to when, or if, I could expect it.

So, having received an Amazon gift card for my birthday (thanks, Rhonda and Charles!), I checked to see if it had Taste of Sorrow in stock. It did, available for immediate despatch.

By now I was pretty disgruntled with Waterstone's. Not so much because Amazon had access to the book while Waterstone's didn't, but because Waterstone's hadn't gotten in touch with me regarding the status of my order since 22nd May--nearly four weeks ago. I was determined to cancel my order with Waterstone's, but being the shy, retiring type, I didn't want to have to talk with a customer service rep. But because of the bookseller's lack of email communication to date, I didn't trust that any email I sent to cancel my order would be received.

I was also skeptical when I went to the Contact Us page of and read "Try our online assistant for immediate answers to your questions". But I clicked the link, scrolled down the brief menu of FAQs, and saw a query about cancelling orders. Ends up all I had to do was log in to the My Account page, click a form, and boom! order cancelled.

Granted, Waterstone's did end up losing this sale. But--and here's where the opportunity comes in--it hasn't lost future sales from me: Because the cancellation process was so easy, I'll have no qualms about ordering from the site again. Just as important, my anger with the company has been replaced with all sorts of warmth and fuzziness.

PS: I ordered Taste of Sorrow from Amazon; I should receive it next week. After all this, the book had better be good.--SC

Monday, 15 June 2009

"You're common, COMMON!"

Fifty-two percent of bosses in the UK have grown worse at motivating their staff since the recession began, according to a survey of more than 1,600 workers by Keep Britain Working, an initiative that "promotes innovative ways to preserve and create jobs," according to a press release.

That news isn't surprising. A rocky economy makes for an employer's, rather than an employee's, market. Many bosses probably feel they don't need to invest energy in motivating staff: Fear of the dole should be enough to keep them doing their best.

But fear--of being made redundant or of being bawled out by the boss--is not a great motivator. Indeed, more than half of the survey respondents said that bosses' failure to motivate staff reduces productivity, and more than a third said it increases the likelihood of a company failing.

My favourite part of the press release were the examples of what Keep Britain Working politely describes as "demotivating boss behaviour":

* "a charity boss who brought in his hunting rifle and pretended to fire it at staff to make them work harder"

* "a boss who made staff clean toilets because she had sacked the cleaners to save money"

* one who "chanted, 'Hit this target, keep your job... Hit this target, keep your job'".

Like most of you, I suspect, I have a few boss horror stories of my own. There was the magazine editor who instructed several of our overworked, deadline-tardy writers to "report during the day, and write at night"--before leaving the office shortly after 5pm. The writers turned her advice into a cheer of sorts, "Report all day, write all night", which we all chanted as we huddled over our computers. We didn't have to worry about anyone else hearing us, as no-one else was left in the building. Not surprisingly, it was around that time that several of the writers began job hunting in earnest.

Then there was the beauty editor at a prestigious consumer magazine where I was a copyeditor who bitterly resisted any attempts to turn her verbiage into comprehensible English. One day when I approached her to query some of her copy, she began screaming that of course I couldn't comprehend her prose, because "You're common, COMMON!" She continued to shriek this as I fled down the hall; by the time I'd returned to my desk she'd phoned the managing editor demanding that I be fired. (I wasn't.)

Can you top any of the above tales of woe? Hopefully not--but if you can, let us know.--SC

Friday, 12 June 2009

Another email we love

The monthly enewsletter from gardening cataloguer Bakker does so many things right:

* It provides a brief table of contents just below the logo and a link to key website pages on the upper right.

* It has a healthy balance of text and photos, and the photos themselves are lovely--bright without being garish or headache inducing.

* It also has a good balance of sales copy and editorial content. The June issue, for instance, offers deals on secateurs and several types of plants, information on several new offerings, and articles on summer pruning and garden-tool maintenance, all of which link back to the website.

* The selling copy, though brief, features product benefits. With a highly visual product like flowers, it's tempting to let the images do the selling, enhanced with a few insubstantial adjectives. But Bakker also points out which flowers are especially good for cutting, or are highly scented, or require little care. And the copy for the Hawaiian Palm is practically a cliffhanger: "It has a wonderful green colour, and as an added bonus it produces magnificent yellow flowers in the winter months. Sadly this plant is now in danger of extinction, but the good news is that you can now play a part in its conservation." And there it ends, save for a link to click for more information.

* The June edition includes a quick poll: "I read the newsletter for: a) the Bakker products; b) the information and tips; c) both" and lets you see the results to date. This is a wonderful way not only of making recipients feel that you value their opinion--and by extension, their custom--but also of gaining some quick information. Happily for Bakker, and not at all surprisingly, when I last checked, 73 percent of the poll respondents answered "both".--SC

Wednesday, 10 June 2009 revisited

This time last year (issue 154) Robert Thorneycroft and Cathy Bell of catalogue design firm ThorneycroftBell reviewed the catalogue for Catalogue e-business magazine. So when the latest edition of the catalogue landed on my desk earlier this week I decided to take a closer look and see whether it had acted upon any of the advice:

  • The 2009 edition is the same size and pagination as its predecessor; it still uses a fairly large typeface and still features large, clean images of the products and their various colourways. Last year, used a gatefold order form at the back of the catalogue. Using a traditional form, wrote ThorneycroftBell, is essential when targeting a more mature audience. continues to feature an order form, but for 2009 it is reduced to one page inside the back cover. Whilst still very usable in its own right, the form now also prompts customers to order online by reinforcing that the website is “simple, fast, secure”. The telephone order line is also featured prominently.

  • In its critique ThorneycroftBell picked up on’s discounting tactics. Previously the catalogue would simply strike through the old price and display the new price in a larger size. seems to have listened to the advice and has changed the way it displays prices. It now prints the recommended retail price and then its new price: “RRP £59.99 > Our Price £39.99”. also uses dot whacks for some promotions such as “Save £20 on RRP” and “Only £19.99 Hurry While Stocks Last” to reinforce the value message as ThorneycroftBell suggested.

  • This year has grouped men’s shoes toward the back of the book and as advised by the review uses the headline “Men’s Collection” at the top of the page to differentiate men’s styles from the rest of the offering. There is one problem though, the headline appears two pages after men’s shoes are first featured. Something might need to work on.

  • Another suggestion did not act upon was to clarify its “Limited Edition” section. As with last year, there is no information on the quantity of the pairs in stock. As ThorneycroftBell pointed out, “If it were only 100 pairs in each size, then promoting this information could stimulate some urgency in customers to order now…If it were 1,000 pairs, we are not sure it’s even worth saying”.

  • ThorneycroftBell advised to make more of its website by promoting it within the catalogue’s opening spread. has not done this, though it does feature socks and shoe boxes displaying a nice cross-selling touch. Page 2 has also seen the introductory letter improved. Yes, it’s still written by Debbie, but this year we know who she is! When ThorneycroftBell reviewed the catalogue it wasn’t clear whether Debbie was a fictional character or a real staffer. In the summer 2009 edition of the catalogue her identity is revealed as a member of the buying team and the company’s TV presenter.

  • previously had Debbie’s “thoughts on each style” appear throughout the catalogue. ThorneycroftBell noted that “The idea of someone promoting products from a personal point of view needs more clarity and development to really add anything substantial to the offer”. Perhaps took this on board as it has dispensed with Debbie’s comments altogether.

We can’t say for sure whether considered our contributors’ advice while working on its 2009 catalogues, but we’d certainly like to think so.—MT

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Introducing the Catalogue Log

What percentage of catalogues would you say promoted some sort of sale or discount on their covers? If you guessed slightly more than one-third, you’re correct. Of the 520 consumer and business catalogues logged by Catalogue e-business during the first five months of the year, 191 of them—36.7 percent—touted price cuts loud and clear. A subset of these limited their discounts to first-time customers (for instance, promotional products merchant 4imprint).

Not surprisingly, sales and discounts were the most popular promotions offered by mailers—but not the only ones. Fifty-eight of the catalogues, or 11.2 percent, promised some sort of free delivery. Sometimes this was a blanket offer, though just as frequently it was tied to a spending threshold or restricted to online orders (or in the case of crafts merchant Baker Ross’s summer catalogue, both).

Nearly as popular among the catalogues tracked was a free gift with purchase; 57 catalogues, or 11 percent, offered this. Comparatively few (2.1 percent) had a prize draw of some sort, and even fewer (1.3 percent) tried a buy-one-get-one-free promotion.

And some cataloguers figured that if one promotion was good, two (or more) would be even better. Cotton Traders, for instance, frequently promoted a price cut on a particular product (such as £19.99 sweats for just £9.99 in its summer catalogue) as well as a prize draw for £25,000. Another apparel catalogue, Kaleidoscope, promoted on its April cover discounts of up to 20 percent, plus a free cutlery set for those placing their first order. A premier customer edition of office supplies cataloguer Neat Ideas promised savings of up to 60 percent plus buy-one-get-one-free on certain items plus free gifts with purchase. And computer company Dell consistently promised discounts and free P&P.

Contrary to our expectations, January was not the month with the most price promotions. (See chart above; click on image to enlarge.) Although 35.4 percent of the catalogues logged in January advertised price cuts and discounts, in May that rose to 42.6 percent. Perhaps merchants had cut back their inventories prior to Christmas and therefore had less to liquidate, though that wouldn’t explain the increase in price reductions in May. Meanwhile, the percentage of catalogues offering free P&P peaked in April, at a full 20 percent, compared with just 7.3 percent in February and 9 percent in March.

As you can imagine, there are a number of ways to slice and dice the copious data we've collected. That's why we'll be analysing on a monthly basis, beginning with the June catalogues, the offers that make their way through our mail slot. We're calling it the Catalogue e-business Catalogue Log, for lack of anything catchier. But I suspect that the trends the data will reveal will be catchy enough.--SC

Monday, 8 June 2009

Monday morning musings

* The MP expenses scandal has hit fashion cataloguer/retailer Joules: "Joules has been rocked to its core by the news that Tom Joule, MD and amateur chicken keeper, claimed expenses on a second chicken coop whilst his primary chicken coop was at the time being sublet to a Buff Plymouth Rock Bantam named Theresa." So reads an article in a mock scandal sheet that Joules posted on its site and emailed to subscribers. Joules uses this to promote a contest to win the chicken coop in question as well as a 15-percent-off sale, but just as important, the promotion communicates the brand's country-living ethos and sense of fun.

* An article in the Sunday Times refutes the philosophy, which I've been hearing more mutterings of lately, that print catalogues are dying at the hands of the web. In discussing Argos parent company Home Retail Group, which is expected to report decent quarterly sales this week, the article notes, "The internet was supposed to kill off Argos with its store showroom and catalogue model. Instead, the web has turned out to be its saviour. More than a fifth of its sales are now online – many web customers check stock availability and reserve and pay for products on the net before picking up the items." Granted, this doesn't speak to the viability of print per se, but it does point to the fact that when it comes to marketing media and sales channels, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

* Primrose London, a direct marketer of garden furnishings, also understands the synergies of multichannel marketing. On the catalogue request page of its website, it doesn't discourage consumers from asking for a print brochure, as so many other companies do. It does, however, explain the advantages and disadvantages of print versus web: "Our catalogue is a 32-page brochure with a selection of the wide range of products we sell. It's a great way to get inspiration for the garden in a more relaxing fashion than browsing the website. However, printing costs are huge so the website will always be more up-to-date than the catalogue. (In other words, the catalogue doesn't contain more information than the website - it's not a technical brochure, nor is it a complete listing of everything we sell. Please refer to the website for the latest prices and products – and please don't rely on information in the catalogue which may now be out of date.)"

* According to yesterday's Observer, Sacha Baron Cohen did some catalogue modelling after leaving Cambridge. Does anyone know whom he worked for or, even better, have the pictures? It would be an appropriate tie-in to his upcoming Bruno film, no?--SC

Friday, 5 June 2009

All in the family

Congratulations to The Old Bag Company, a Devon-based business selling handmade bags, which won the regional heats in the Barclays Local Business “Family Affair” competition. It receives £1,500 and a year of free business advice from Barclays presented by Dragon's Den and Reggae Reggae Sauce entrepreneur Levi Roots.

The press release said the judges were impressed by how working as a family--15-year-old Will for instance, is credited on the website as head of IT--The Old Bag Company achieved a 60-percent sales increase on the previous year and introduced a steady stream of new designs to its range of handbags, purses, pouches and baby changing mats.

Personally, I love the name of its enewsletter, The Old Bag Fan Club, I’ve already put my name down.—MT

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Softly, softly

Toast, a cataloguer of apparel and home goods, breaks just about every rule of email marketing. For the most part, each of its emails is a large, lovely photograph with just a few words. The most recent one, for instance, shows a picnic meal set out on a cliff overlooking a lovely blue body of water; the water, in fact, is the focal point of the image, not the picnic. The copy reads, in its entirety, "Picnic necessities... click to see more" with the Toast logo in the lower right corner. If you do click through, you land on a category page for outdoor and picnic products.

The emails lack any real call to action, any promotions or special offers, any value-added content in the way of tips or news. And because the image is king, I'd imagine some rendering issues may arise.

So Toast appears to be turning its back on best practice. Which doesn't matter, if what it's doing works. But does it? On the one hand, by using such a soft (or virtually nonexistent) sell, Toast stands out from the inbox clutter. But I wonder if standing out is enough to move merchandise. Personally I've not yet been moved to click through, except today, and that was solely for the purposes of writing this blog entry. Any thoughts?--SC

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Give them some credit, they’re celebrities

The Cashmere Centre seems to have taken a leaf out of Derby House’s copy of How to Use Celebrity Endorsements in Your Catalogues. I picked up the former's Winter Sale edition to find on the cover a photo of TV presenter Angela Rippon. But there was no mention of her name, so it crossed my mind that she was perhaps a look-a-like. I flicked through the book and found another shot of Angela modelling the Shelagh 4-ply Cowl Neck jumper, but still no confirmation that she was the former Top Gear presenter. I turned the page and finally, a testimonial from Angela how much she loves the quality of the Cashmere Centre’s knitwear.
Angela Rippon models in the catalogue several more times, but it’s all very low key. Why isn’t Cashmere Centre shouting about this stamp of approval from a celebrity who is still a household name? Why is her name only mentioned in passing, signing off a testimonial? Why isn’t she used as a selling point on the website in an “as worn by…” feature?
You’d think that after convincing a celebrity to pose in the catalogue, they’d at least make a big deal of it. Otherwise, it might as well be another anonymous model. --MT

The customer's voice

Here's a great example of a business that really appears to value its customers and their opinions. Yesterday, toys and novelties cataloguer/retailer Hawkin's Bazaar posted on Twitter that it was seeking contributions to update the introductory text on its website home page.

By asking customers to describe Hawkin's Bazaar in their own words, it will see exactly how the business is viewed through consumers' eyes--the adjectives they use, any recurring themes in their descriptions, how they would sum up the business in a paragraph, and so on. The insight garnered from this could be just as valuable as information obtained during a monitored focus group.

What I particularly admire about this tactic is that even if Hawkin's Bazaar doesn't end up using customer-generated copy, it was brave enough to ask for it--and via an unmoderated medium!
Let's hope it doesn't go the same way as a recent Neal's Yard Remedies Q&A in the Guardian.--MT

Monday, 1 June 2009

Catalogue e-business June issue

As a reader of Catablogue e-business, you’re probably familiar with our print magazine, Catalogue e-business. But if you’re not a subscriber, you may not know what you’re missing. Here’s a taste of what’s in the June issue

• Special Focus on customer service: profiting from your call centre, web self-service, and using social media to engage with customers
• Lists and data: calculating lifetime value
• Executive suite: finding new funding
• Delivery and distribution: seven areas to focus on to improve supply chain efficiency
• Ecommerce: kick-start your web analytics
• Q&A with: Asco Educational Supplies managing director Tom Marshall
• Plus: the latest industry news, a review of the Plastic Parts Centre website, small-business spotlight, and much more

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Papering over the problem

Shrink, an organisation devoted to reducing paper consumption, last week released a scorecard of how 20 "major UK paper buyers" are doing in their efforts to use less paper. Cataloguers come in for particular scorn, with Boden and Freemans deemed "wasters". According to a release, "Between them they are responsible for sending out thousands of tonnes of unwanted catalogues that go straight from our post boxes into the bin". Fellow cataloguers Ikea, Argos, and Shop Direct Group were deemed to have "failed" the challenge. In a related release, Shrink project coordinator Mandy Haggith declares that "the catalogue sector is particularly wasteful".

Last year Shrink challenged 20 companies, a cross-section of cataloguers, supermarkets, financial firms, and magazine publishers, to reduce their paper usage by 50 percent. Nowhere on the Shrink website could I find exactly why these businesses were selected--no stats as to exactly how many tonnes of paper each uses, what type of paper, and for what purposes. For that matter, I couldn't determine how Shrink measures these companies' paper usage.

Nor could I find any explanation as to how Shrink came up with the magic figure of a 50-percent reduction. If you're a magazine publisher and you have newsstand sell-through of more than 50 percent--in other words, if fewer than half of the magazines you send out for retail distribution are returned--then it would seem that cutting paper consumption by half would eat into your sales, if not your profits.

The tone of Shrink's communications seems to be that any mail not specifically requested by the recipient is "junk" and therefore wasteful. There's no acknowledgement of the fact that even for companies such as Boden, which reportedly reaps 70 percent of its sales via the web, print catalogues and newspaper inserts are vital to driving much of that traffic.

Of course, companies can and should try to limit their paper usage. Not only for environmental reasons--though those are cause enough--but also because doing so can increase profitability. Mailing to people who have no affinity for your product is a waste. Sending duplicate catalogues to one individual because of errors on your database is a waste. (That's why, in Catalogue e-business magazine, we've been running a series titled "Waste not, want not" to help mailers increase the efficiency of their mailings.) But sometimes--often enough to be profitable--unsolicited mailings do generate sales, which in turn helps maintain and create jobs.

Shrink seems to have its nose out of joint over a lack of response from several of the companies it selected to monitor. In fact, among its criteria for its scorecard, "how co-operative the companies have been with the Shrink project" counted for 20 percent of the final tally. nearly half as much as "their action to reduce paper consumption", which counted for 50 percent. Perhaps Shrink would have had a better reaction from the industry if it had taken a less arbitrary, more accountable approach to what is a worthy cause. For a start, I'd suggest detailing why these 20 particular firms were selected to be monitored, how much paper they use, and what tailored suggestions it would offer each company to help it reduce its consumption as well as to encourage it to use more-sustainable types of paper.

Otherwise the vagaries of the Shrink project (stating that "in the UK, paper use is four times the world average", for instance, is specious, given that the majority of residents in the third world have little use for it) make it tough to take what is a worthy cause seriously. In fact, the apparent stubborn rigidity of the group and its refusal to acknowledge economic realities is enough to make me want to toss reams of paper out the window simply to spite Shrink.--SC