In the years since ecommerce arrived on the direct marketing scene like an unexpected and not-all-that-wanted younger sibling, cataloguers have viewed it as an auxiliary channel. The print catalogue was the core business, and any sales generated via the website were considered ancillary.
That may have been the correct attitude a decade ago, but not anymore, says Bill LaPierre, senior vice president of list and marketing firm Direct Media/Millard. Direct marketers have to realise that now the web is the core business, he explained last week during his ECMOD session “Crucial Techniques for Your Survival That Successful Catalogues Don’t Want You to Know”. The catalogue’s primary purpose is to drive business to the web, LaPierre says; any sales that result directly from it are ancillary.
Of course, this is counterintuitive to most multichannel marketers. As a result, LaPierre contends, they’re not leveraging the unique benefits of the internet to their fullest potential and are wasting money on less-than-effective catalogue mailings. “The successful cataloguers we work with focus on having a website that’s better than their catalogue,” he said. “The successful cataloguers understand that the web is the cheapest way to acquire a customer.”
Which is not to say LaPierre thinks catalogues should go the way of the Betamax and the eight-track player. But they do need to be reevaluated as website traffic drivers first and as standalone sales vehicles second. “Instead of mailing a 150-page catalogue,” he suggested, “you might mail three 50-page catalogues that are better targeted.”
LaPierre cited US womenswear merchant Chadwick’s as an example of a print catalogue that has evolved into a web traffic driver. Product copy is virtually nonexistent; the images sell the apparel, and the callouts of specific web features—customer reviews, the ability to view the looks on models, the search and sort options—sell the website.
Another US cataloguer/retailer, outdoor gear seller Cabela’s, produces similar versions of its catalogues: spread after spread of products, with copy limited to the product name, the SKU number, and the price. Want to learn more? Visit the website—and while you’re there, you can see Cabela’s entire, exhaustive product line, read customer reviews, watch product videos, and more.
Cabela’s hasn’t killed off its traditional-format catalogue; it still mails its “big book”, complete with detailed product copy, to some of its stalwart customers. But by analysing and segmenting its customer file it has determined which customers are just as likely to order from the smaller traffic driver as from the more costly traditional catalogue and sends them the cheaper-to-produce version, enabling Cabela’s to cut costs without cutting response or sales.
For this strategy to work, your website needs to be top-of-the-line. It should offer alternative search and sort options (for instance, search by size, by colour, by material; sort by price, by popularity, by newness), extensive product specs, customer reviews, effective cross-selling, multiple imagery—in short, the elements that distinguish the web as a marketing and sales channel.
One last caveat, which you no doubt know but which we feel compelled to say anyway: Don’t forge ahead with any huge changes without testing them first.--SC