Monday, 29 June 2009
Friday, 26 June 2009
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
We look forward to hearing from you!
Wednesday, 24 June 2009
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
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
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”.
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.
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
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
Wednesday, 17 June 2009
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
Monday, 15 June 2009
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
Wednesday, 10 June 2009
This time last year (issue 154) Robert Thorneycroft and Cathy Bell of catalogue design firm ThorneycroftBell reviewed the Shoe-shop.com catalogue for Catalogue e-business magazine. So when the latest edition of the Shoe-shop.com 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, Shoe-shop.com 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. Shoe-shop.com 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 Shoe-shop.com’s discounting tactics. Previously the catalogue would simply strike through the old price and display the new price in a larger size. Shoe-shop.com 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”. Shoe-shop.com 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 Shoe-shop.com 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 Shoe-shop.com might need to work on.
- Another suggestion Shoe-shop.com 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 Shoe-shop.com to make more of its website by promoting it within the catalogue’s opening spread. Shoe-shop.com 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 Shoe-shop.com 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.
- Shoe-shop.com 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 Shoe-shop.com took this on board as it has dispensed with Debbie’s comments altogether.
We can’t say for sure whether Shoe-shop.com considered our contributors’ advice while working on its 2009 catalogues, but we’d certainly like to think so.—MT
Tuesday, 9 June 2009
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.
Monday, 8 June 2009
Friday, 5 June 2009
Thursday, 4 June 2009
Wednesday, 3 June 2009
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
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
• 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
To avoid missing out on this and future issues, you can fill out an online subscription form at catalog-biz.com or phone 01271 866112.
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