Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Words of the wise

I can’t let the recent deaths of two wordsmiths who were hugely influential to me pass without a blog post.

William Safire, a long-time columnist for The New York Times and a speechwriter for former US president Richard Nixon, died this past weekend. In addition to his political commentary, he wrote a weekly column for the Times Magazine, “On Language”, in which, in a rollicking fashion, he examined trends in jargon and slang, researched changes in usage, and to quote the Times’ obituary, “gleefully pounced on gaffes, inexactitudes, neologisms, misnomers, solecisms and perversely peccant puns”. When I was a copyeditor at American Vogue, my boss Donna and I lived in fear of seeing editorial on which we had signed off appear in his column. (Happily we never did.)

He also coined a few wonderful phrases, most notably “nattering nabobs of negativism” for a speech by Nixon’s first vice president, Spiro Agnew. That phrase alone shows the power of words: I couldn’t tell you anything about the scandals that drove Agnew out of office, or indeed much else about the man, but I’ll always associate him with “nattering nabobs”.

Two weeks earlier a writer of a different ilk, Jim Carroll, died. He’s best known for the song “People Who Died”, recorded with his late-‘70s band, and his prose book The Basketball Diaries, in which he described life as an adolescent basketball star, smack addict, part-time hustler, and nascent poet.

I won’t wax lyrical about how The Basketball Diaries altered my views of writing and galvanised my own efforts, except to say that in both his prose and his poetry, Carroll made every word count, and he didn’t flaunt his vocabulary for the sake of it. His prose in particular favoured hard-working Anglo-Saxon words rather than fancier Latinate near-equivalents. He was able to communicate the beauty of the everyday by communicating with everyday language—which is why it’s difficult to get the full effect of his writing by quoting a random passage out of context.

In differing ways, both Safire and Carroll made me more conscious of how effective words can be when wielded properly, and how wasteful it is to use them unthinkingly or lazily. Words are tools, and whether we’re using them to sell a product or make a joke or set a mood, we need to make sure that we control them, rather than let them run amok.

I’ll let Jim Carroll have the last word, with a quote from an interview he gave some years back: “The best thing to do is to transform knowledge into wisdom, and to transform ideals into principles.”--SC

Friday, 25 September 2009

Fuzzy with the details

My first thought on opening the 2009-2010 catalogue from DZD was “Why are there coffee-cup stains and doodles all over the cover?”. My second thought was “What is DZD?”. The answer to neither was forthcoming.

Page 2, where you’d normally expect to find an introduction to the catalogue and its wares, looked like the inside page of a library book complete with date stamps (almost made me wonder whether I really did need to return the catalogue by 9th April 2014). Meanwhile, page 3 was simply a photo of twigs with the words “Trend: Nature” written at the top left.
Flicking through, it became clear that this was a business-to-business catalogue, but only after visiting the website did I work out exactly what DZD did. Turns out it sells visual merchandising products—decorations, retail displays, and the like. It has some nice stuff too, but this is buried within a catalogue that has no index or table of contents.
It almost seemed as though the DZD catalogue has some pages missing—the pages that are supposed to explain why I should deck my store using its products. In other words, the pages that sell the company and its USP. Here’s what I would have liked to see on the opening three pages instead:
  • a cover with a strapline to explain what the business does. Adapted from its website, something like “the only visual merchandising resource you need” would do.
  • a letter from the managing director on page 2 to introduce the season’s new trends and highlight any special offers or new arrivals
  • a table of contents
  • how to order info and details on the DZD showroom (currently on the inside back cover)

If the DZD team is reading this and taking notes, I’d be interested to see next year’s catalogue. If you’d like, we could put to it to one of our experts for a free critique in a future issue of Catalogue e-business.

And by the way, I still don’t know what the doodles on the cover have to do with anything, so if someone could enlighten me, please do.—MT

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Now I'm a believer

For the longest while, I didn’t quite get all the hype surrounding Asos. Sure, it sells a broad range of apparel, and yes, its website has top-notch navigation and functionality. But being the jaded soul I am, I expect no less from an ecommerce site. Praising an etailer for offering multiple search and sort options, to my mind, is like rewarding a child with extra sweets simply because he did his homework. He’s supposed to do his homework, just like ecommerce sites are supposed to make shopping simple.

But now I’m an Asos fan. And it’s because of the problems I had in completing my order on its site.

Two days ago I tried to buy two items from Asos, but the site insisted that my credit-card details were wrong. I retried several times, then tried with my debit card. No go. So I filled out the online form and emailed it to the Asos customer care desk. Within the hour I received an automated response “just to let you know we are still looking into your query”.

Apparently my query was a tricky one, because I heard nothing else until the next day. “Thanks for your email and we’re sorry to hear you've been having problems placing your order,” read the second message. “We have passed on your details to our Technical Team and they are working round the clock to get this resolved as a matter of urgency. They aim to get this fixed within the next 24 hours, and as soon as they have any further information, we will send you an email to advise. Please accept our sincere apologies for any inconvenience this may cause.” I liked the tone of the message: apologetic, helpful, friendly. I decided to give Asos one more day before shopping elsewhere for the items I’d been trying to buy.

And lo and behold! This morning I received another email: “Hi there”. Right away I knew the problem was resolved; Asos wouldn’t greet me with a jaunty “Hi there” if it were about to tell me bad news.

“Great news!” the email continued. “Our Technical Teams efforts have now paid off and we’re pleased to let you know that the problems you have recently experienced, when trying to place your order, have now been fixed. We know that you are probably eager to get shopping again, but before you do please can you delete the stored card information and then re-enter and save, ensuring you select the correct card type – you are ready to go! As a thank you for your patience we’d like to offer you a 20% discount off your next shopping spree with us…” As much as I loved the cheery but not too familiar phrasing of the message, I loved the discount even more.

Full of the warm-and-fuzzies, I went back to www.asos.com and bought not only the two items I’d originally tried to purchase, but a few small additional products as well. In doing so, I found even more to love: the care instructions included on the product pages, that I’d receive my order within two days at the standard P&P, that I could request a specific delivery date for just a few pounds more.

Okay, I concede: Asos just might live up to its hype.--SC

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Clever like a fox

Frugi's loss is its customers' gain. The children's apparel cataloguer apparently keeps chickens on its premises, and yesterday it mentioned on its Tweeter feed that a fox had devoured four of them. Hours later, Frugi sent out an email with the subject line "Find out why Mr Fox is in the Frugi doghouse..."

Superimposed atop a photo of chickens was an orange cartoon fox labeled "Cruel fox". The brief copy explained that because of the murder of the chickens, the staff want to rid the warehouse of its line of shirts adorned with a cartoon fox similar to the one shown in the email. "So, we're giving away a FREE Mr Fox Top with every order over £45". The discount code to receive the shirt, by the way, is "POORHENS". If you're looking for an impromptu marketing email that epitomises a company's brand image, this is it.--SC

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

The best of both channels

“If I won the lottery I’d buy half the contents of this store!” exclaimed my husband as we toured the Lakeland shop in Exeter. My husband loves shopping for housewares and gadgets, from clothespins to grout cleaners to popcorn machines. (He’s not as enamoured of actually using the items, but that’s another story.)

But I was underwhelmed by the store. The Lakeland print catalogue, in my opinion, is one of the country’s best. The copy, the in situ photography, the page layouts, the recipes, all combine to make it nearly impossible not to place an order. The store, however, was just another store selling household items and kitchenware. They were good-quality, and in some instances unique, items, but the browsing experience itself was unexceptional.

“If you think the store is good,” I said to my husband, “wait’ll you see the catalogue.” I left him a copy on his chest of drawers before heading to work the next morning. That night he declared, “If I won the lottery I’d buy one of everything in this catalogue!” Which I take as corroboration that the catalogue is twice as effective a sales vehicle as the store.

Lakeland could easily take advantage of the strengths of its catalogue in its stores (and to be fair, perhaps it does in its larger outlets). A few suggestions, if I may be so bold

* Repurpose the product copy. Sure, most shoppers don’t go to a store to read. But product copy is one of the Lakeland catalogue’s strengths. So why not include shelf tags with one or two sentences explaining the virtues of particular products? You wouldn’t want to feature these for all items, of course; you’d probably limit them to products that have unique selling features.

In the catalogue, for instance, the copy for the OXO Good Grips Silicone Pastry Brush reads “At first glance, it may look just like any other pastry brush. But look closer, and between the heat-resistant silicone bristles hides a row of tiny holes which retain liquid when you dip, so no more messy drips.” Even edited down a bit, this description would make it clear why you should spend a bit more for this particular brush.

And just as hero photos and stopper pages help to slow down catalogue readers, making sure they take the time to peruse rather than scan, a smattering of shelf tags throughout the store will encourage shoppers to pause, linger, and maybe purchase an item they hadn’t known they’d needed.

* Give away recipe cards. The catalogues generally include a half-dozen or so recipes (the Sticky Ginger Cake recipe and photo on page 35 of the Autumn 09 Kitchen Ideas edition are guaranteed to get your salivary glands going). I’d print up recipe cards, complete with the Lakeland logo, URL, and phone number, and place them near the pertinent products (the Sticky Ginger Cake recipe cards, for example, would sit near the Fluted Cake Rings). People who cook—and who buy cookware—hang on to recipes for ages. What better way to keep your brand in front of them?

* Get cooking. We all know how difficult it is to walk past a bakery that has just unveiled a fresh batch of scones or a butcher’s that is placing hot-from-the-oven meat pies into its case. When it comes to taking advantage of the olfactory senses, bricks-and-mortar beats print easily. If Lakeland were to periodically bake one of its bread mixes in one of its bread machines, foot traffic would soar, and impulse buys would most likely follow suit.

* Cross-sell on the shelves. Websites do a great job of increasing order values by recommending related items on product pages. Stores can do the same. While you most likely want to group like products with like, you can also include a smattering of related items on the shelf display. For instance, on the shelves devoted to stock pots and sauce pans, I’d also feature a few soup mixes, in addition to displaying them in the area of the store dedicated to edibles.

None of these ideas are that difficult or costly to implement. But they help make the in-store experience at least as involving as that of reading the catalogue. When your catalogue is as great as Lakeland’s, you’d be foolish not to adapt its features to all of your other channels.

In the meantime, I've got to hide the Lakeland catalogue where my husband can't find it. Given that he doesn't even play the lottery, I envision our bank account taking a big hit if I don't remove the catalogue forthwith.--SC

Friday, 18 September 2009

Making print more sociable

Molly Flatt of social-media marketing firm 1000heads wrote an article for the October issue of Catalogue e-business (due to hit desks 5th October) that, among other things, wondered why few multichannel marketers made use of social marketing in their print catalogues. Many mailers include customer testimonials in their catalogues, but that’s pretty much the extent of their word-of-mouth marketing efforts in print.

Orvis has the right idea. The outdoor gear and apparel merchant runs an annual photo contest; the winner’s picture is used as the front cover of its autumn Orvis Dog Book (and the photographer gets a £500 Orvis gift card too). Consumers are the judges; they’re encouraged to vote via the print catalogue and the website. This year Orvis also posted on YouTube and on its own site a video slide show of some popular entries. The video received more than 6,000 views on YouTube in just two months—and you know a significant portion of those viewers clicked the link to the Orvis website, had a browse, and maybe requested a catalogue or made a purchase.

As I was editing Molly’s article, I came up with all sorts of possible ways to “socialise” catalogues, in addition to those Molly suggests (and no, I’m not going to tell you what those are—you’ll have to read the issue to find out). For instance, gadgets retailer Firebox.com runs a fortnightly contest in which it awards a gift card to the person who submits the best photo and video. The contest is promoted on its website and the winning entrants featured, but I haven’t seen the winning photos included in the Firebox print catalogue. Why not?

For that matter, why not ask catalogue readers to submit photos of themselves using/wearing products they’ve purchased from you, then include a smattering of them in the catalogue and on your website? Why don’t more kitchenware merchants solicit recipes from customers, or art-supplies cataloguers run contests for readers to design their covers?

The internet didn't create social marketing; it merely put a flashy shiny gloss on the concept. Cataloguers (and even more prominently, magazine publishers) have long invited their audiences to participate with their brands via contests, testimonials, and requests for pictures, stories, recipes, and helpful hints. The mechanics of setting up a blog or a forum or online product ratings are relatively easy; the challenging part is crafting a compelling, attention-getting reason for your audience to get involved.--SC

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Oh, you mean that "FU"

The two of us here at Catablogue e-business had differing reactions to the typographic logo on this page from the autumn Fashion Union catalogue. The more good-natured colleague thought it was meant to spell out "FUNNY", with the heart standing in for an "N". The misanthrope of the team (okay, that would be me) thought that Fashion Union was giving New York a two-finger salute, or as we say in New York, flipping the city the bird. Surely I'm not the only one who didn't immediately get that the "FU" was short for "Fashion Union" and not something far ruder.--SC

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Two more email ideas to steal

Of the dozens of emails that landed in my inbox during the past few days, here are two that caught my attention:

1. Homebase puts the good, better, best sales model to excellent use in its latest email. The DIY and furnishings retailer promises to have the "product to fit the purse" and lists a range of products including flooring, heating, kitchens, and wallpaper under three headings: budget, affordable, splash out.
Even from the relatively small images and brief copy, recipients can work out why one bathroom suite is more expensive than the other, and why you could spend up to £22 per square-metre on flooring. As the old adage goes, a picture’s worth a thousand words.

2. Fashion cataloguer Boden also appreciates the importance of images as selling tools. As some readers may know, the Catablogue e-business edit team is a sucker for cute. That’s why we fell in love with this email titled “Going, going, gone. Last chance for 15% off Boden‏”.
The beauty of it is that the email uses fewer than 20 words to get its message across. The main hook is a picture of three dogs with diminishing levels of food in their bowls signifying the reducing rate of discount available. Altogether now, “Awww!”. It’s a frosty heart that isn’t won over by this promotion.—MT

Monday, 14 September 2009

Welcome to the real world, CWU

"Never before have postal workers experienced so many attacks from all sides. Whether it's pay, job security, workload, or dignity and respect at work, our members are facing a beating on all aspects of their working lives."--Dave Ward, deputy general secretary of the Communication Workers Union (CWU), 21st August.

This, in a nutshell, is the CWU's rationale for its continuing regional strikes against Royal Mail and for holding a vote, beginning 17th September, amongst all postal-worker members on whether to call a national strike. The ballot closes 8th October, which means a strike could take place as early as 15th October.

For its part, Royal Mail has dubbed the strike vote "wholly irresponsible" given that "talks between senior management and the union leadership were taking place,” according to a statement. Royal Mail's position seems to be that the CWU is basically failing to go ahead with changes it had agreed to as part of the 2007 Pay and Modernisation Agreement.

I'm sure both sides are in the right on certain points and in the wrong on others; that's just the way of the world. In what is apparently news to the CWU, it's also the way of the world that employees sometimes get their hours and pay reduced, have more work heaped on them, and are treated less than ideally by their bosses.

I think we can all agree with the CWU that such situations are unpleasant, stressful, and downright undesirable. But sometimes they're necessary to keep a business afloat. Small sacrifices now can stave off much bigger sacrifices later on.

The CWU seems to be focusing on the short term at the expense of the long term. Let's say the union manages to prevent any more Royal Mail workers from being made redundant, even if it means not implementing more-efficient technologies and practices that require fewer workers. That's swell for those union members right now. But when Royal Mail's inability to institute more-competitive pricing and services leads to even steeper declines in postal volume, which in turn results in the need for an even smaller workforce, what then? Eventually something will have to give: the jobs of a greater number of workers or the viability of Royal Mail as a competitive entity.

While the CWU may not want to accept certain elements of "modernisation", the world in which it operates has gone ahead and modernised anyway. Royal Mail no longer holds a monopoly on the areas of its business with the greatest potential, such as parcel delivery; while it is still the sole provider of "final mile" carriage, that portion of its business is declining due to the growth of online banking, electronic payments, and email; the private carriers with which it competes have already taken advantage of new technologies that allow them to cut costs, making them a more attractive option for many clients.

The CWU seems to think that by calling strikes it can call a halt to these realities. Not in the real world, my friend.--SC

Friday, 11 September 2009

Three highlights from our email inbox

A few emails in particular caught our eye this week. First up, from fashion cataloguer Brora:

This email alerts recipients to the Colourfinder tool on the Brora website. You select the pattern or colourway of the item you’re interested in, and it will show you all the products available in that shade and coordinating shades. No more worries about whether the blue of a certain cardigan matches the blue used in the floral pattern of the dress you’ve had your eye on. I imagine that this feature will reduce inbound service calls and help increase order sizes.

Next, from menswear mailer Brook Taverner, an email with the subject line “How to Tie the Perfect Half Windsor Knot”.

The email opens with several model shots and a paragraph with links to specific brands. This segues into a discussion of ties and knots. “There are different types of knot and which you use is not just a matter of taste but of getting the right knot for the right tie and shirt collar,” the copy states. I wasn’t aware that certain knots worked only with certain collars--and I’m not sure my husband is either. “The absolute definitive to master is the Half Windsor,” the email continues, “a symmetrical and triangular knot which can be used with any formal shirt and which lends itself to most ties in a light to medium weight fabric…” What follows are step-by-step directions complete with illustrations. The subject line encourages even those not in the market for a suit or other piece of attire to open the message; the nonselling information bolsters Brook Taverner’s credentials as a source for stylish, quality menswear.

Last but not least is the I Want One of Those (IWOOT) enewsletter.

Each issue of this newsletter tends to be several screens long, but it’s well worth scrolling down to the end—not simply to look over the etailer’s latest offers and odd new gadgets but also to read the fun facts featured in a section titled “Things We Didn’t Know About…” a particular subject. This week’s subject, in honour of the start of the school term, is “studies”. Thanks to IWOOT, I now know that Margaret Thatcher “was on the university science team which developed the first portable ice cream machines used in ice cream vans”. And then there’s this anecdote: “Seventy percent of the entire final mark of a Sociology A Level final exam was based on one question,'What is the bravest thing you've ever done in your life?'. One student wrote, 'This.', got up and walked out. He got an A.” Sheer brilliance all around.--SC

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Empty calories

There’s no denying that the catalogue from Artisan du Chocolat is gorgeous: metallic-embossed covers, thick paper stock, mouth-watering photography. It helps, of course, that the sweets on offer are themselves lovely, as is the product packaging.

And the descriptions of the various chocolate bars, ganaches, and collections are practically Proustian. The Liquorice Couture Chocolate, for instance, offers a “deep chocolate taste followed by a sweet liquorice sensation, like the memory of chewing on a liquorice stick on the way back from school”. The description of the Gingerbread Spices Fushion Bar reads, “The first gingerbread is thought to have been baked by Crusader monks for special occasions. Our white chocolate and gingerbread bar is also reserved for special moments—like a craving for something sweet and comforting.” And then there’s “an earthy salted caramel infused with sage and a hint of thyme. Bitter sage and sweet thyme revealed in succession form layers of flavours and add depth...”

Mmm, you’ve sold me. Let me at those chocolates!

Alas, the perfect-bound, expensively printed catalogue doesn’t include product prices or an order form. Worse, the phone number doesn’t appear until the fourth page from the back, which is also where you find the URL and the addresses of the few London stores. To be fair, the URL is on the back cover as well, but I didn’t notice that until I’d leafed through the entire brochure, expecting to see the web address and the phone number on the footer of each spread.

Artisan du Chocolat clearly invested significant time, talent, and money in creating this marketing piece. And the catalogue certainly does the job of making you want to buy its products. What Artisan du Chocolat fails to do is make it simple for consumers to act on that desire. And because the brochure fails to close the sale, I can’t consider it an effective sales tool.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to run to the shop next door and buy myself a chocolate bar.—SC

Catalogue e-business September issue

The September issue of Catalogue e-business is out now. Don't subscribe? Here’s a taste of what you’re missing

* Special Focus on technology: everything you wanted to know about IT but were afraid to ask, investing in the warehouse, and more

* Small-business spotlight: how to use content to build a successful online brand

* Bonus ECMOD 2009 Preview supplement: ten elements vital to increase profitability, a walk through a catalogue redesign, tips to help you shop for software and solutions, and more

* Plus: the latest industry news, a review of the Salon Skincare website, and a Q&A with Lula Braithwaite of LoveLula.com.

To guarantee your copy, subscribe today by calling 01271 866221, emailing our subscriptions department or filling the form online.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Sometimes size does matter

The subject line of the latest email from Petite Affair read “Fab AW'09 all on genuine petite models...”. That petite models are modelling clothes for petite women seems to be an odd focus for an email subject line.

It’s odder still when you see that on the product pages of the Petite Affair website, the clothes aren’t modelled by people at all; the product shots are silhouettes against a white background. It’s only within the “latest collection” section of the site that you see ensembles on models.

The subject line does raise an interesting point, though: Do people who buy speciality-size apparel want to see the goods on speciality-size models?

The team at Marisota seem to think not, judging from the product photos on its website:

The Simply Be models are definitely curvier:

Ditto those of Yours Clothing, Roman Originals, Kanopy, and Freemans, amongst others.

Then again, some fashion retailers that sell a plus-size range as well as “regular” apparel seem to use the same product shots and models for both (yes, I’m looking at you, La Redoute).

Heading in the other direction, sizewise, lingerie specialist Little Women does indeed feature models who are relatively little on top:

Apparently there isn't much call for plus-size male models to show off apparel for “big and tall” men. For instance, although the John Banks website features separate sections for “big” and “tall”, the allegedly big men are just as slim as the tall men:

While I understand that marketing is largely aspirational, I wonder if, say, women who are a size 20 with sizable hips would be more apt to order a dress from a catalogue or a website if they saw the dress worn by a model whose figure more closely resembled theirs than Victoria Beckham's. Personally when catalogue copy cites a particular dress as being ideal for pear-shape figures or especially flattering for small breasts, I'd love to see said dress on a woman with those physical assets, rather than on a generic model.

During the past few weeks the media have been chattering away about a model featured in a recent issue of American Glamour, simply because she has generous hips and a stomach that, when she's seated, touches the top of her thighs. That a woman who resembles a significant portion of Glamour readers is featured in Glamour shouldn't be news. Likewise, that a cataloguer of petite apparel is using petite models shouldn't be notable enough to merit an email subject line, should it?--SC

Friday, 4 September 2009

Chums doesn’t want to be my friend

Yesterday I visited the Chums website to request some catalogues (all in the name of research, you understand).

Instead of filling in a request form, Chums--which targets the grey market with its range of “traditional clothing”--requires that customers add the desired catalogues to the basket and go through checkout to order them. A bit clunky, but when done properly it isn’t too much of a hassle. After all, this is also the system Cath Kidston uses for requesters of its magalogue and it works fine, as I can attest.

However, unlike the smooth process at Cath Kidston’s website (which even sent me an order-acknowledgement email to confirm my order of £0.00), Chums wouldn’t even let me into its checkout area. Apparently my order total was “too low” and I should “please add more items to your basket!”. No thanks, I only wanted a catalogue.

It made me wonder, what if I had been a would-be customer stumbling across the Chums site for the first time. Would I have bought something just to receive some catalogues? How many customers is Chums turning away because it won’t give away its catalogues so readily?

It’s possible that Chums relies on telephone orders for most of its business--or catalogue requests for that matter. But it’s worth remembering that even if most of your customers prefer to place their orders over the phone rather than online, that’s no reason for making a visit to your website a frustrating and unfulfilling experience.--MT

Thursday, 3 September 2009

The August Catalogue Log

The dog days of summer made their presence felt in the Catalogue Log inbox. In August we logged in just 71 catalogues, less than half the number (149) tallied in July. How much of the decline in volume was due to general seasonality and how much to the Royal Mail strikes scattered across the month is impossible to say.

While the overall volume of catalogues was low, the percentage offering sales and discounts was the highest it’s been so far in 2009: 43.7 percent. That’s not surprising, given that many retailers, particularly apparel merchants, make every effort to shift excess inventory by the end of summer to make room for autumn and Christmas merchandise. Cataloguers as diverse as Furniture@work.co.uk, footwear merchant Hotter Comfort Concept, retail fittings supplier Morplan, womenswear title Simply Be, and Wickedelic Lingerie posted special sale catalogues in August.

In fact, the percentage of catalogues that promised no special offers fell sharply. In June, 46.5 percent of the books logged in carried no free P&P offers, gift-with-purchase deals, prize draws, discounts, or other special offers. In July the percentage slipped slightly, to 43.6 percent. But in August fewer than one in three of the catalogues received—31 percent, to be precise—were free of sales or other promotions. For the most part, those were autumn/winter/Christmas editions, such as the Arthritis Research Campaign’s Christmas issue, the autumn editions of childrenwear merchant Frugi, gardening title Sarah Raven’s Kitchen & Garden, and womenswear brand Spirit of the Andes , upscale knitwear mailer House of Bruar’s 2009-2010 catalogue, and the autumn/winter editions from fair-trade fashion brand People Tree and apparel brand Weird Fish.

Peeks, which sells party and fundraising supplies, did include a special offer in its Christmas catalogue: a discount on early-bird orders. It didn’t call out the promotion on its cover, though, opting to feature it on the opening spread instead—a bit of a missed opportunity.--SC

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

When free has strings attached

How would you interpret this recent Twitter promotion by cosmetics etailer ELF?

“Free shipping today ONLY! http://www.eyeslipsface.co.uk/. UK customers use FANK13UK and Europe customers use code FANK13EU”

Would you take it to mean that all orders for all UK or European customers are eligible for free delivery that day? Because I did; but I was wrong.

If you’re not familiar with ELF, the initials stand for Eyes, Lips, Face, and its USP is that each item from the core range costs just £1.50. Items from the new (deluxe) Studio collection cost £2 more. The standard delivery charge is £2.95—almost as much as the cost of two items. So, of course when I saw the tweet about free delivery, I headed online to replenish my stock of mascara.

At checkout I entered the code, but the delivery charge wasn’t deducted from the order. Nor was there a warning message that my code wasn’t applicable. I abandoned my basket and returned to Twitter to ask for help. A message came back: “For free shipping orders need to be £10.00 or over”.

I felt a bit of a cheapskate, but it’s the principle. At the very least ELF should have made Twitter followers aware that conditions applied or even warned me at checkout that to qualify for free delivery I had spend a little more (like Amazon does with its Super Saver Delivery). In any case it lost the sale, inspired a “Twitter Fail”-type tweet and this blog post, all generating negative feedback for the company for its lack of clarity.

Free delivery is a very popular promotion with customers, but it can be tricky for retailers to implement successfully (see our November 2008 article No such thing as “free” delivery for more on the topic). In this instance, ELF’s loss was The Body Shop’s gain. In complete contrast to my experience with ELF, shopping on The Body Shop’s website was a breeze. Not only did The Body Shop offer me free unconditional delivery all Bank Holiday weekend, it also gave me an extra 10 percent off AND a buy-one-get-one-half-price deal on the products I needed. And even though I only intended to make a purchase of £12 or so, I ended up spending more than £30 and qualified for the free gift; you’ve guessed it, mascara.

The moral of the story is that by not spelling out what it meant by free delivery, ELF risked upsetting customers. At best, they’d shrug it off and spend £10. At worst, they’ll spend three times that amount at a competing etailer.—MT