Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Doing less with more

Last week I blogged about the new Very (formerly Littlewoods Direct) website, which I felt was an awkward mix of selling and socialising. This week we received the Very Directory 2009 Autumn/Winter, the brand’s overhauled print catalogue.

Actually it really is more of a directory than a mail order catalogue, in that there’s very little selling going on. For the most part the book is page upon page of product silhouettes and minimal copy (“High waist skirt. Cotton. Lining: Polyester. Sizes 8-20” is a typical product description). The pages are laid out in a tidy, albeit monotonous, grid. The only lifestyle photos are on the pages introducing each product category, which is a shame, as the paper stock is gorgeous.

The one thing that the book does sell is the Very website. I’d say that most of the spreads include a blatant web traffic driver: a dingbat next to a product promoting “savings online”; a reversed-out text block suggesting “Not sure about that bag? Ask your friends online. Very sociable”; a simple “Not enough choice? There’s loads more online. Very smart”.

Assuming that the primary aim of the Very directory is to drive traffic to the Very website, then the book is a success. But it’s a success born of a failure: a failure to provide shoppers with enough information and motivation to buy straight from the printed page.

Yes, it’s cheaper to process orders online than via a call centre. But that’s no excuse for burying the call centre phone number; the first reference I found to it was on page 33, whereas the URL is on the header of every page. And yes, cross-selling and upselling can sometimes be more effective online than in print (though the jury is still out on that; for every marketer who says online order values are larger than offline order values, there’s one who swears the reverse is true). But to all but discourage readers to phone in an order by requiring them to go online to gather enough information to make an educated buying decision is reactionary. This is not cross-channel commerce but rather a throwback to the days of two-step response programmes.

At 354 pages of heavy mat paper stock, plus an even heavier cover stock, the Very directory couldn’t have been cheap to produce. But given that the recession has forced most of us to do more with less, it’s surprising—and disappointing—to see Very spend more on a print vehicle that does a lot less than the traditional Littlewoods Direct catalogue did.--SC

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