Tuesday, 29 September 2009
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
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.
- 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
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
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
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.
Friday, 18 September 2009
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.
Wednesday, 16 September 2009
Tuesday, 15 September 2009
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
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
Next, from menswear mailer Brook Taverner, an email with the subject line “How to Tie the Perfect Half Windsor Knot”.
Last but not least is the I Want One of Those (IWOOT) enewsletter.
Thursday, 10 September 2009
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
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Tuesday, 8 September 2009
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
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
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
“Free shipping today ONLY! http://www.eyeslipsface.co.uk/. UK customers use FANK13UK and Europe customers use code FANK13EU”
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
Tuesday, 1 September 2009
1. The July Catalogue Log
2. Email we love: NotontheHighStreet.com
3. Of fan mail and thank yous
4. Compare and contrast: Book Depository
5. What we learned from 150 marketing emails
6. Third time’s the charm
7. Catalogue e-business August issue
8. Celebrity skin
9. Something's fishy
10. Chat-up lines