Thursday, 23 December 2010

Christmas turkeys

This morning the BBC had a segment in its news programme on how to disguise one’s disappointment at ill-conceived Christmas gifts. However, no amount of eye widening could make us pretend we like any of the following:

McDonalds Drive Thru Food Cart Playset

I’m not a parent, but I am sure that “When I grow up, I want to work in McDonalds” isn’t the phrase you’d want your eight-year-old to utter. Then there’s the associated childhood obesity concerns. Dear Toys R Us, whatever happened to stethoscopes, or if it has to be retail—fruit and veg?

Velform Hair Grow Plus

Hair-loss is often a traumatic experience; I have close friends and family members who lost all their hair through chemotherapy. And consider this too, if you have a receding hairline, would you really appreciate the Velform Hair Grow Plus for Christmas? This seems to me more fitting as a product you would buy at a pharmacy and test its efficacy in private, not in front of your entire family. It might be an excellent product, but as a Christmas present, I find it more than slightly tactless.

Multi-cat Toilet Seat
Seven out of seven cat owners I know would not like this for Christmas. I just don’t see why anyone, cat lover or not, would want the “multi-cat toilet seat”. But you’ve got to love The Cat Gallery’s copy accompanying the product: “The cat image is on both sides of the lid so you get to see it all the time.”--MT

Friday, 17 December 2010

Catalogue copy we love: Silver By Mail

While its prices may be far lower than those in Tiffany’s range, Silver By Mail does not skimp on descriptive product copy.

Copy in the Tiffany Christmas catalogue is functional: “Venetian link bracelet in sterling silver, £130” or “Tiffany Woven bracelet in sterling silver, narrow, £280”. In contrast, Silver By Mail, a name not as established as Tiffany, has to use more emotive copy--relying on feelings and senses to sell its wares. Virtually each one of the products in its latest catalogue is given at least two sentences of copy containing benefit and highlighting special features. A few examples:

Twistour Ring: “Silver liquid beauty, the gentle twist in this plain silver bans adds lush feminine curves to wear 24/7. Divine with that wrap dress and twisted straps”.

Autograph Bangle: “Slim and curvaceous, this slice of chic silver is so comfortable you’ll forget you’re wearing it until someone says they love it, again and again.”

Wedge Silver Earrings; “Petite hoops with a wedged profile to team with our favourite fashion shoes. Hinged at the base, they close around your lobe with no thread on show for seamless, go anywhere style.”

Silver By Mail then includes the dimensions of the product and available sizes. As a final nice touch, the catalogue also points readers to the website where matching items can be found and the whole range can be explored.--MT

Friday, 3 December 2010

November Catalogue Log

Christmas is coming and with it a rush of Christmas catalogues. In November we received and logged 167 catalogues, up 19.3 percent on last year’s 140 catalogues, and up 34.7 percent on November 2008, when we tracked 124 catalogues.

As volume increased, the number of special offers decreased. In November, we noted that just 46 of the catalogues we received, or 27.5 percent, promoted a discount or sale on the cover. This represents the lowest percentage of catalogues offering a special price promotion recorded in 2010. In fact, it’s the lowest percentage recorded since we began compiling the Catalogue Log back in late 2008. Up until now, April 2010 held the record for lowest percentage of sales and discounts, with 29.2 percent.

Clearly, cataloguers are watching their margins; sales and discounts were not the only promotion to decline during November. The number of catalogues promoting a free gift was also at its lowest for 2010, with just 8.4 percent, or 14 catalogues doing so. My favourite free gift promotion was from cosmetics retailer L’Occitane, which offered a goodie bag worth £25 with purchases of £35 or more.

Cataloguers were also shifting away from free shipping, with just 18 percent of front covers promoting free p&p. Among those offering free delivery, most opted for setting a spend threshold. Gifts marketer Aspen & Brown set quite a low threshold of £20, whilst craft supplies catalogue Baker Ross required customers to spend £75 online in order to qualify for free shipping.

Overall, more than half, 53.3 percent, of the catalogues we received last month did not promote any sort of special offer on the cover. Instead of special offers, some catalogues such as Lakeland, made customers aware of last order deadlines. Classicalia, the new brand from gifts cataloguer Nauticalia, opted for using the cover to highlight some of the products within, possibly to establish its range for new customers. Toys and games cataloguer/retailer Hawkin’s Bazaar, the self-proclaimed “Suppliers to Father Christmas since 1973”, went for a picture of a retro-looking, blast-of-colour snow globe full of toys on the cover. Toning it down for Christmas was homewares and gifts cataloguer Cox & Cox, which decided on a simple image of a mince pie tower and cocktail stick decorations.--MT

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Snow chance to get creative

In January this year, we chided direct marketers for failing to make the most of the cold snap to boost sales. So with temperatures plummeting again, and much of the UK hit by blizzards and ice, have marketers learnt their lesson?

As we pointed out last year, consumers are well aware of the difficult driving conditions, and expect that deliveries may take longer. Most retailers, for their part, are reassuring customers with up-to-date delivery information. Ethical Superstore, for example, suspended its next-day delivery option on 29th November until further notice due to adverse weather conditions in the north-east of England. Whilst John Lewis, Mark & Spencer, and Argos amongst others, all display notices of possible delays on their home pages. But, just as we said last year, inevitable delays will not deter people from shopping online. Indeed, as Alison Quill, managing director of toys and games cataloguer BrightMinds, posted on Twitter, rainy weather contributed to a significant rise in sales last month, “Will snow gave same effect as rain on mail order, or will customers be nervous about deliveries? Time will tell”.

So how exactly are direct sellers attracting those who are snowed in to visit their website? An email from Hotel Chocolat received this morning urged recipients to “Avoid the snow and order Christmas gifts online TODAY + Free Gifts Offer‏”. This, however, was the only mention of snow in the entire email. It was as though Hotel Chocolat had planned a Christmas-themed email and added snow to the subject line as an afterthought.

An email from the Fish Society, with the jolly subject line “Let it snow”, was actually rather brusque: “We will NOT despatch your order if delivery is threatened by snow”. Of course it makes perfect sense not to despatch perishable goods if they are unlikely to reach their destination before they spoil, but I feel the email could have had a more reassuring and sympathetic tone.

Another email, this time from gifts and gadgets etailer I Want One of Those, buried the snow theme halfway down its email titled “Give better gifts with IWOOT & 10% off Photogifts”. Another rather bland example is Crew Clothing which sent an email titled “Snowed in? Buy your Crew Winter warmers online!”. Exclamation point aside, there wasn’t much to get excited about.

So far, I haven’t received a snow-related email that was truly engaging. Perhaps retailers are all too busy trying to work around the snow in the run-up to Christmas to really get creative.

However, I did get an email from the dedicated folks at Derbyshire-based Dolls House Emporium. Most of them had been out in the car park this morning with shovels and makeshift snowploughs to clear and grit the way for the delivery vans. They even sent me a photo to prove it.--MT

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Where’s all the Wills and Kate merchandise?

Here at Catalogue e-business we were very happy to hear the news that Prince William and Kate Middleton are to get married on 29th April next year. Not only is it a very joyous occasion for all Great Britain to celebrate, we also get an extra bank holiday. I am a little surprised—and dare I admit, disappointed— though, that there isn’t more “Wills and Kate” merchandise out there, at least not judging from the emails and catalogues I have received lately.

While Tesco’s £16 version of Kate’s dress sold out within minutes, and replicas of the engagement ring are boosting trade at jewellery shops, I’m struggling to find any kitsch memorabilia. Since the engagement was announced on 16th November, I’ve received just one (yes, one!) email promoting royal wedding merchandise, from pottery brand Emma Bridgewater.

I’m sure as the wedding date draws closer I’ll receive more promotions for commemorative souvenirs. In the meantime, and in the absence of any really bizarre royal wedding products, I’ll leave you with a little frivolity from Firebox and Twitter. The gifts and gadgets etailer asked its followers on the social networking site to suggest Wills and Kate merchandise befitting Firebox’s quirky style. One respondent suggested barbeque gloves, another said racing Wills and Kate in the style of the Racing Grannies, and another liked the thought of a Wills and Kate-themed double Slanket.—MT

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Most popular articles September, October

If you missed them first-time round, here’s your chance to have a read of our five most popular news and articles in September and October.

1. Unions pledge to resist Royal Mail privatisation
Direct sellers braced themselves for possible postal strikes as the Communications Workers Union (CWU) vowed to fight the government’s plans to privatise Royal Mail.

2. Catalogue e-business interview with Peter Higgins
Catalogue e-business’s Miri Thomas talks to Peter Higgins about preparing Cath Kidston for sale, his chairmanship at apparel cataloguer Joe Browns, and his plans for Charles Tyrwhitt.

3. Prospecting by retargeting
One of our highlights from this year’s ECMOD: how Screwfix is using personalised recommendation engines and tracking technology to drive online sales.

4. Boden: More markets, not more channels
The key to Boden’s future success is not opening up more retail stores, but rather expanding internationally, says the company’s eponymous founder.

5. Confetti acquired by north-west entrepreneur
Wedding-supplies business Confetti is offloaded by Findel to The Hut, which sells it on to IT entrepreneur George Buchan.

Catalogue e-business’s news is free-to-read online, but to access our insightful subscriber-only content you need to join our list of satisified subscribers. To guarantee your copy and the key to all the locked-down content on our website, subscribe today by calling 01271 866221, emailing our subscriptions department or filling the form online at

Friday, 12 November 2010

Another look at The Linen Press

In our July/August 2010 edition, our contributor Anne Hadfield of Brahm (now Brass), reviewed the spring edition of The Linen Press catalogue (below). She found it charming and full of potential, but the creative lacked “brand personality”.

This month I received The Linen Press’s Autumn catalogue (below), so let’s see if anything’s changed.• At 44-pages and A5, the catalogues are the same size and pagination. However, while the spring catalogue featured a green jacket and headscarf on the cover, the autumn edition doesn’t feature product on the cover at all. It could be argued that this is a backward step, as Hadfield writes, “it’s proven that when products are showcased on the cover and are easily identified on the inside pages they inherently experience a great uplift in sales.” Instead, the autumn cover is an image of a grey cloth, with the words linen, silk, cotton, and cashmere made to look stitched in. The cover lacks a call to action—something Hadfield says is a missed opportunity.

• In her review, Hadfield criticises The Linen Press for failing to substantiate the relevance of the dog motif. She says that the use of a brand icon “would create and reflect a genuine point of difference”. Happily, this is something The Linen Press has done with its autumn catalogue. “You may be wondering ‘What has a little dog got to do with The Linen Press?’”, begins the letter from Christine (who I assume is the company’s founder). The letter goes on to reveal that the dog’s name is Betty, and she was the inspiration for the catalogue’s marque because “she is much more memorable than the other suggestions we had!”

• Another point Hadfield picks up on is that information about product sourcing should appear on page two, and The Linen Press has taken that advice. Continuing her letter, Christine lets customers know that the linen is from Ireland, and the majority of the products are manufactured in Portugal, adding “nothing is too well travelled and no child labour is involved (unless you count my nieces & nephews stuffing envelopes from time to time…)” This helps build credibility and makes a friend of the customer through the chatty and friendly tone of voice.• Seeing as the cover didn’t feature product, the next best thing would have been to include a table of contents so that customers receiving the catalogue for the first time aren’t in the dark as to what’s on offer. As with the spring edition, The Linen Press decides against a contents page. A recipient flicking through the catalogue has to wait until page 22 before encountering anything other than apparel. However, The Linen Press does mention its by-the-metre fabric on the back cover, indicating that there are more than just clothes within the pages.

• It seems that more has been made of the models in the autumn catalogue. While in the spring edition Hadfield says the “photography is disappointing—cold, in-shadow, underpropped, and largely faceless,” the autumn edition has more faces—and more smiles. I particularly like the image on page 7 of the model with the cashmere fingerless gloves (above). The product is clearly visible, and the model looks natural, relaxed and happy. The Linen Press does use some of the same images from the previous catalogue, but I can accept that due to budget and time constraints, not every product can be re-shot.

• The Linen Press’s autumn catalogue also makes more of an effort to cross-sell, something Hadfield addresses in her review. The Linen Press apparently took heed. On pages 8 and 9, for example, the models are pictured wearing tunics and coats matched with a spotty scarf. A callout on the spread points to page 12, where the scarf can be seen in all its colourways.

• The review also mentions that The Linen Press misses the opportunity to upsell by not making it obvious that the company can offer bespoke sheets. In the autumn edition, The Linen Press uses page 37 as a stopper, with bold lettering that states “We can make your tablecloth to any size”. Now that’s more like it!

It appears to me that The Linen Press has implemented some of our suggested tweaks, without comprising on the friendly personality we liked in the first place.--MT

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Johnnie Boden at ECMOD

At ECMOD this year, one of the most popular sessions was a live interview with Johnnie Boden, founder of the Boden apparel catalogue. If you were one of the delegates in the room, as I was, you were in no doubt fascinated by how candid Boden was about his most memorable mistakes and successes of the past 20 years. What particularly caught my attention during the session was the admission that the company does not measure a customer’s lifetime value—sometimes known as the holy grail of multichannel marketing (part 4, 02:02).

For more on this and other insights into one of the home shopping sector’s most popular brands, check out the four-part video on the Catalogue Exchange’s YouTube channel. In particular, have a look at the Q&A session at the end of the interview and tap into the hot topics in the direct selling sector right now—the problem of free returns, the effects of discounting, and as Johnnie Boden called it, the “never-ending nightmare of testing”. –MT

Monday, 8 November 2010

October Catalogue Log

Last month I predicted that as we get closer to Christmas we would receive more catalogues touting free delivery promotions on their front covers. The catalogues we tallied in October, however, proved me wrong.

September had seen a record number of catalogues offering conditional or unconditional free delivery, and, based on what we saw in 2009, it seemed that October’s crop of catalogues would follow suit. In fact, the number of catalogues promoting free shipping in October 2010 was fewer than one in five (19 percent), the lowest figure since July and down on October 2009 when 21.7 percent of catalogues promoted it. Among the catalogues that offered free delivery in 2009, White Stuff went for the same deal in 2010—free delivery and free returns; Past Times increased its order value threshold from £40 to £50 in order to qualify for free delivery; BooksDirect decided not to repeat the offer, opting for a free gift promotion instead, and Lands’ End shifted to a discount instead of free shipping.

That’s not the only decline we recorded. We received fewer catalogues in October—147 compared with September’s 185. We also noted that the number of catalogues offering any sort of offer was significantly lower than in September. We saw an almost even split between catalogues using their covers to promote a sale, discount, free gift, or free delivery and those that offered no special promotions at all. What’s more, the percentage of catalogues offering a free gift with purchase was just 10.2 percent, the lowest it’s been since December 2009.

Contributing to this downward trend is the fact that several of the catalogues we received did not feature a special offer on the cover, but did send a covering letter or included an insert within the catalogue that carried a promotion. This tactic was used by homewares catalogue Cologne & Cotton, which on a separate sheet of paper gave mainland UK customers free delivery on orders of £50 or more. At Lakeland, meanwhile, the order form was used to advertise its offer of free UK delivery on orders of £50 or more. I’m not sure why Lakeland would want to hide the offer. Is promoting free delivery from the cover not in-keeping with Lakeland’s brand values? Would a front-cover mention not lift take-up of the offer? I'd be interested to find out.

Here’s another little nugget for you, fact fans, out of 147 catalogues, 28, or 19 percent, had the word Christmas in the edition’s title. Just one had the word Halloween.--MT

Thursday, 28 October 2010

A phantom error

It’s not often I admit defeat in trying to work out what a marketer is trying to tell me. I'd like to think I give everyone a fair chance to make his point. But in the case of Procook’s latest email, I hold my hands up in resignation.

The Halloween-themed email is titled “Oops, we got it wrong!” and features the same words in a speech bubble coming from one of the pumpkins in the top image. Obviously, something in a previous email went awry, but this email makes no mention of it. What would otherwise have been a very good example of a Halloween email (Witches’ Finger cookies anyone?), has me now wondering “huh?”--MT

Friday, 15 October 2010

A wild-goose chase with Outdoor and Country

Outdoor and CountryWhilst flicking through the Outdoor & Country catalogue I fell in love with an adorable jumper that would be perfect for my niece. I immediately made a mental note to buy it for her birthday next month. The “Free Delivery” dot whack on the right-hand side of the page did its job in further persuading me that this was a good buy. However, a closer look at the free delivery offer revealed that “conditions apply”.

Okay, where can I find out what the conditions are? Nothing on the front or back covers pointed to a free p&p offer, the welcome letter on page 2 also made no mention of such a deal. Even the terms and conditions form at the back was no help. In very fine print on the order form I noted that full terms and conditions regarding delivery are available online. So I headed online. Happily, each spread carries the web address at the bottom on the page so at least I didn’t have to look too hard for that.

Nothing about free delivery on the home page. The link to “Delivery” takes me to a page about Christmas ordering and the returns process, but nothing about free shipping. The help page was a bit more help, but only told me of standard shipping rates, not about any offers.

I then decided to search for the product and see whether by adding it to my basket, the checkout process will work out charges for me. No such luck, the jumper is out of stock in all sizes.

After all that effort I still don’t know what the deal is, and even more disappointed to learn that it’s out of stock anyway. Cataloguers take note—don’t make the consumer work so hard. If free delivery has conditions, specify what they are within the catalogue. Not everyone will be sat by a computer when browsing your catalogue, and even if they are, they shouldn’t be expected to hunt for something made so prominent on a product page.—MT

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Prospecting by retargeting

“CRM is dead and PRE is the future”, declared Screwfix’s head of ecommerce John Ashton in a session called Personalisation, Prospecting, and Profiting in 2010 at this year’s ECMOD conference. “PRE”, he explained, stands for Personalised Recommendation Engine and it is currently responsible for 15 percent of total business at Screwfix.

Whereas customer relationship management (CRM) is defined as managing the interactions your customer has with your brand to drive acquisition and retention strategies, according to Ashton, the personalised recommendation engine is all about using your customer’s actual behaviour with your company to instantly add value to your business.

In a nutshell, a PRE is a program that uses the data your business has on an individual to show that person products that he may be interested in based on his behaviour on your website. This means using the pages and products he viewed, what’s been added to the cart, past purchases, or what other customers like him have bought to form an idea of the products that may also be of interest to him. At Screwfix, for instance, CRM meant targeted offers, say, for all plumbers on the database. Using a PRE Screwfix is now able to display offers at an individual level, based on what is in the shopper’s basket, or what he’s looked at before.

Moreover, in 12 weeks’ time, said Ashton, Screwfix will have achieved a single customer view across all of its channels—trade counters, catalogue and website. This will enable the trade counters to see exactly what someone has bought in the past whether online or in-store, and instead of suggesting generic offers like “would you like a measuring tape with your order”, staff can suggest more relevant products, for example, copper piping as an additional purchase to someone who has a boiler in his shopping basket. This tactic will also be applied to Screwfix’s email marketing to personalise email offers and make its 1.2 million weekly emails more “interesting”, added Ashton.

Wrapping up his presentation, Ashton told delegates how Screwfix is using retargeting. He explained that of’s 700,000 weekly web visitors, 650,000 leave without buying anything. However, in the past six months, the company has been “retargeting” those that have left empty-handed. Ashton described how Screwfix is using a tool called Criteo, which tracks users’ online behaviour using cookies to display ads to them once they have left the site. The results are impressive says Ashton, who added that before using these targeted ads, which can display to users the last few products they viewed on the screwfix website, he had struggled to see any sort of return using online display advertising. From Ashton’s presentation it appears that it’s no longer about reaching out to prospective customers, who may never have heard of you; it’s about maximising the traffic you are already getting by personalising the experience.--MT

Related articles: Highly recommended

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

September Catalogue Log

Nearly one-fifth of the 1,081 catalogues tallied in the first nine months of 2009 were received in September. For the same period of 2010, we received just 953 catalogues, but September’s share remained roughly the same—we logged 185 catalogues last month, representing 19.4 percent of the total catalogues received to date.

There are further similarities between the data gathered in September 2009 and last month. Not least that in both years we noted a significant increase in volume compared with the previous month—no surprise there as many cataloguers are ramping up distribution in the run-up to Christmas. Each September saw catalogue volume almost triple compared with August. Based on the last two years, I’d hazard a guess that this pattern is likely to be repeated next year.

While the number of catalogues we received had rocketed, the percentage promoting sales and discounts dropped appreciably, from 41.0 percent in August to 34.1 percent in September—almost an identical percentage to last year, when the number of catalogues promoting a sale or discount was 34.4 percent. Among the 63 catalogues promoting a sale or discount on the front cover or carrier sheet, were nightwear catalogue Charlotte & Co, which offered 20 percent off the customer’s first order, and apparel catalogue Fife Country, which gave customers a time-limited offer: those who order by 16th October receive 15 percent off any order of more than £50.

The percentage of catalogues offering free delivery remained almost unchanged from last year, rising marginally to 24.3 percent; however it represents the highest rate so far this year. Almost a quarter of all catalogues tallied in September offered conditional or unconditional free p&p, including business-to-business catalogue BT Business Direct, which promoted free delivery on online orders of more than £149 plus free delivery on all inks and toners until 8th October, and maternity wear cataloguer Isabella Oliver, which offered free standard delivery for all orders of £99 or more, and free express delivery for orders of £139 or more.

The number of catalogues not using their front covers to tout special offers was also up on August. In September we recorded 80 catalogues without an offer, representing 43.2 percent, or almost a 10 percent rise on the previous month.

Looking back to October 2009, 41.3 percent of catalogues highlighted a sale or discount on the cover, and 21.7 percent offered free shipping. Going forward, I’m going to make another prediction based on that data: as we get closer to Christmas, free delivery will become an even more popular offer as cataloguers strive to make service, rather than price, the key differentiator during the festive season.--MT

Friday, 1 October 2010

Added value

When you sell goods that are, shall we say, at the pricier end of the market, you may find you need to explain why your products are more expensive. Why would a consumer looking for a nightdress buy your nightdress priced at £79 over one that looks similar but costs £25 from Marks & Spencer?
Apparel cataloguer David Nieper has an answer. In its most recent catalogue, the company sets the scene with an enclosed 8-page booklet titled “Buy direct from the designer. An introduction to a unique fashion house”. Further callouts on the cover highlight “family tradition, hand made in England” and “the finest fabrics”. Inside, these elements are explored—complete with customer testimonials to support the claims. The result, the consumer is left with no doubt as to what makes that £79 nightdress so special.--MT

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Apology accepted

I previously blogged about “sorry” emails that seem insincere, so bringing it back from the realms of desperate and needy, to actually appearing apologetic was an email from DIY retailer Wickes.

Last week I received a catalogue in the post from Wickes. To be honest, I haven’t yet looked at it. Apparently there was a misprint: Wickes had given the expiry date for its special offer as January 2010, rather than 2011. Whoops!

Today I received an email titled “Apologies from Wickes‏”. Bracing myself for yet another “our website was down over the weekend, here’s 5% off everything”, I was pleasantly surprised. In a a refreshing change for a “sorry” email, the tone of this message is genuinely apologetic and Wickes comes across as rather embarrassed at the admission of its error.

The added bonus, of course, is that by sending me this email Wickes has reminded me of its offer without being pushy about it. Nice save, Wickes.--MT

Monday, 20 September 2010

Seeing red at green report

Earlier this month we published our special feature on “The Green Issue”. We reported that consumers are embracing home shopping, and in particular ecommerce, not just for convenience, but because it is seen as a more environmentally friendly way to buy goods and services.

A 2009 report from the Heriot-Watt University supports this view. It says that whilst “neither home delivery nor conventional shopping has an absolute CO2 advantage, on average, the home delivery operation is likely to generate less CO2 than the typical shopping trip,” in other words, shopping from home is, overall, a greener way to shop.

However, this weekend I read about a new report from the Institution of Engineering and Technology that found we need to buy at least 25 items from a website in one shopping spree before any environmental benefits take effect. According to the report, which was covered by the Telegraph, it may be better for the environment to drive to the shops rather than “rely on a lorry” for home delivery. It sounds to me as though the authors of the report are suggesting that lorries drive the length and breadth of Britain carrying just one parcel at a time and that they deliver to Land’s End and to Inverness in the same trip. We all know this is simply not the case. What’s more, the report ignores that Royal Mail still handles a significant chunk of parcel deliveries and that posties deliver these parcels as part of their daily rounds—often on foot.

Also, the report seems to forget that replenishing stores is also part of the retail supply chain. Product has to be delivered to the store in order for the customer to be able to purchase it there. Therefore, the report implies the journey from depot to home is more harmful to the environment than depot to store and then store to home. In fact, the study from the Heriot-Watt University found that “a person would need to buy 24 non-food items in one standard car-based trip for this method of shopping to be less CO2 intensive than having one non-food item delivered (on the first attempt) to their home by a parcel carrier.”

I find it hard to swallow that environmental savings can only be achieved “if online shopping replaces 3.5 traditional shopping trips, or if 25 orders are delivered at the same time, or, if the distance travelled to where the purchase is made is more than 50km (31 miles)” as the new report suggests. What the study by the Institution of Engineering and Technology set out to prove was that it was equally harmful for the environment to move carbon emissions from one sector to another—that is from offline shopping to online shopping. Yes, there is still more online retailers can do to be greener (see The Green Results Are In), but to say that it may be better to the environment to drive to the shops seems contrary at best and terribly bad advice in all other instances.--MT

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Idea to steal--return to sender

Catalogue returns are inevitable, but as we’ve seen in the Catalogue Log, which tracks UK catalogue marketing trends, cataloguers are becoming smarter with their mailings. Increasingly catalogue companies are trying to cut down on waste, both for environmental as well as commercial reasons. So this is why I love this idea from Howies.

On the back of its 172-page autumn catalogue (which, by the way, was mailed without polywrap) the company asks if recipients returning the catalogue could spare a minute to let it know why the catalogue was not welcome. Recipients can tick one of four boxes:
I have received more than one, this is catalogue number…
There are two of us at this address and I can share with (full name)…
I don’t want to receive any more Howies catalogues…
Some other reason? (tell us below)…

Then at the bottom of the page, the catalogue pleads: “Don’t bin me. Read me or return me”.

A fine example of making your catalogue more environmentally friendly and more user-friendly.--MT

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Personalisation fail

We received a pen in the post today. Nothing unusual about that, I’m sure we've all received countless offers to personalise our corporate stationery.

What makes this pen extra-special is that it has a photo on it as well as our logo and address. The sender is obviously trying hard to win our business; it was after all “a labour of love and I hope you agree it looks terrific”, says the covering letter.

In its endeavour to send us something that was truly unique, it took an image from our website. That honour goes to Richard Dalziel—one of our unsuspecting independent contributors who, according to this particular stationery supplier, is now the face of our brand.

Moral of the story—if you’re going to try your hand at personalisation, first do your homework about what you are going to personalise.—MT

Friday, 3 September 2010

August Catalogue Log

Last year, the fact that we received just 71 catalogues in August seemed unusual to us. But this year, receiving just 61 catalogues in August came as no surprise. We have been tracking a steady decline in catalogue volume during the last few months—the only anomaly being July, when sale activity boosted the number of catalogues to land on the Catalogue Log desk.

Comparing the catalogues received in August 2009 with those logged in August 2010, some titles that appear in both columns, such as Books Direct, House of Bruar and Scotts of Stow. There also seemed to be an almost equal number of new names this year to compensate for lists we have been dropped from. This further cements the theory that cataloguers are mailing smarter, removing unprofitable names from their files.

Cataloguers are also becoming smarter with their covers. We have been tracking how many catalogues highlight a sale or discount, free shipping, or a free gift on their covers since January 2009 and have noted an increasing trend of using the cover to promote some sort of offer. A staggering 65.6 percent of all the catalogues we received in August featured some sort of offer on the front cover—in July that figure was 64 percent and in June it was 60 percent. Among the minority of catalogues without a special offer were Brora, the Dolls House Emporium, and Lakeland.

The most popular offer in August was a sale or discount, promoted on 41 percent of the catalogue covers we logged. This is appreciably lower than July’s record high of 49.5 percent. Gaining favour with cataloguers in August was free delivery—the number of catalogues touting free shipping almost doubled from 12.1 percent in July to 23 percent in August. Catalogues offering free delivery included Bon Prix, Joules and Boden, which repeated its Sunday Times offer of last year—a 15 percent discount, free delivery, and free returns. We thought it made Boden look needy last year, but it obviously works or Boden wouldn’t have used it again.

The number of catalogues offering a free gift with purchase was 11.5 percent, down from 12.1 percent in July and from 14.1 percent in August 2009. Free gifts were mainly promoted by the b-to-b catalogues in the pack including Viking Direct and Neat Ideas.

Our favourite offer of the month is from gardening catalogue Sarah Raven’s Kitchen & Garden. Among the messages on the cover was this: “Offers What’s yours? See page 49”. I thought it was a fun way to encourage customers to flick through the catalogue. It also had a sense of personalisation—did my catalogue have a different offer to my friend or neighbour’s? I’d like to think there was some sort of segmentation that went into deciding which offer to send to which tranche of the database. Let's put it to the test, I got 15 percent off. What did you get?--MT

It’s our 15th birthday--take 15% off

Subscribe to Catalogue e-business during September* and you’ll receive a 15% discount.

The September 2010 issue of Catalogue e-business is out now and it’s an extra-special one; not only is it jam-packed with the latest tactical advice for multichannel retailers, we also have the bonus ECMOD Preview2010 supplement.

Subscribers can look forward to:

* The Green Issue: the mail order sector doesn’t fare well when it comes to appearing “green” —here's what you can do to combat that, plus tips on sustainable print buying that won’t cost you the earth and a Q&A with Celtic Sheepskin’s general manager Karl Headleand.

* Small-business spotlight: how to use video on your website.

* Contact centres and customer service: is “self service” just an excuse for poor customer service?

* Bonus ECMOD 2010 Preview supplement: increasing sales through Google Analytics, managing your multichannel marketing investments, making sense of order allocation, and news from the exhibition floor.

* Plus: the latest industry news, a review of the Magicbox website, and a Q&A with Patricia Watson of Able2 Wear.

Don’t subscribe? September also sees us celebrate 15 years of Catalogue e-business, so for those of you that aren’t familiar with the publication, or what we have been offering our loyal subscribers all these years, we’ve come up with a very special offer.

Subscribe to Catalogue e-business during September* and you’ll receive a 15% discount. That’s right—you’ll receive a year’s worth of issues, plus all our supplements and full access to our website for just £72.25 in the UK or £80.75 for an international subscription.
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Tuesday, 31 August 2010

How not to relaunch a website

This weekend I received an email from a mail order company that will remain nameless. Its title was “New Website - Now Live! PLEASE READ”. Sounds scary, doesn’t it? It gets worse: “The new website may take up to 24 hours to become available online while the new site registers across the internet. If you still see the temporary page this is because it has not yet updated on your ISP's nameservers.” Say what?

Followed by:“Unlike previous websites our new website is completely automated. Please ensure your orders are correct when you place them as we may not be able to change them at a later date if an error is made prior to goods being despatched.”

This is wrong on so many levels. First, if the website hadn’t updated “on your ISP’s nameservers” why was this company promoting the relaunch? Seems strange that it would publicise a launch when it wasn’t confident that the site was truly live.

Second, adding that the website is now “completely automated” seems redundant to me. What did customers do before? Did they shop online, realise that they bought the wrong size or colour and then call up to change orders after they were placed? It must have been a common problem for the company to address it in a serious-looking plain-text email.

Third, the tone is all wrong. You’d think that relaunching a website would be a happy occasion with plenty to shout about. But this email doesn’t tell me why I should buy from the new site. There are no details on the new site’s features, nor is there any sort of offer to tempt me to click through.

What I would have suggested is soft-launching the site. If the bank holiday is a key sales period, it would have made sense for the site to go live earlier but without fanfare. That would have given the retailer enough time to fix any bugs before the important weekend. It could then follow up with a much more appealing email complete with images and a bit of information on exactly what was new—something that was sadly lacking from this email.--MT

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Compare and contrast--Simply Be

In June, we reported that UK-based plus-size apparel catalogue Simply Be was crossing the Atlantic to launch a US catalogue and website. The American website has now landed and an autumn (or rather Fall) catalogue is in the mail. So apart from the wording of the seasons, what else is different?

Although the home pages of the UK and US sites are fairly similar, there are subtle differences. First, Simply Be’s international sites (for the US, Germany, and an English-language euro site) are all built on the Venda platform, whereas the main site displays no developer/vendor logo. The UK site (below) also has no favicon. The international sites do.

Whereas the US site (below) has just one horizontal navigation bar along the top of the page, the UK home page has two. UK shoppers can click through to the categories of Fashion, Accessories, Sport & Swimwear, Lingerie, Footwear, Home & Garden, Electricals, and Gifts. Below that are links to New In, Designers & Brands, Style File, Editors [sic] Notes, and Sale. The US site only gives the options of Apparel, Lingerie & Sleepwear, Shoes, Accessories, and Active & Swimwear. The UK left-nav bar also has more messages than its American counterpart—it calls for votes in the Company Fashion Awards.

Another difference is that the UK site has two main images on the home page, whilst the US has only one. The established UK site is promoting its ranges for autumn, emphasising new trends. The US site, which has only just gone live, is going for a more generic approach and is mainly promoting the company’s newness: “From Britain with love…Fresh, fabulous and right here in the USA!” Is this an indication that Simply Be is taking a leaf out of Boden’s book and using its Britishness as part of its appeal?

Links to Simply Be’s social-networking presence—a Twitter feed, a Facebook page, a blog, and a YouTube channel as well as links to Simply Be’s international sites—are present on both sites. Noteworthy, however, is that the blog link takes both American and British shoppers to the same page; other etailers, like The Book Depository, have different content for different regions. Simply Be’s recent blog post are all aimed at a UK audience—promoting the Company Awards, shining a spotlight on the latest UK TV ad, and writing about the Simply Be model competition, which as far as I can tell, is only open to UK entrants. I also tried clicking through to the blog from Simply Be’s German site, which launched in 2009. Once again, it was the same, UK-focused blog and I couldn’t see any references to its German shoppers or its activity in Germany. From this I gather that Simply Be will probably not embark on writing a US-focused blog.

Navigating around the site
Both the UK and US sites have their search bar in roughly the same position on the site. As I didn’t have anything specific in mind, I headed for the Fashion category on the British website (above) and the Apparel category on the American site (below). I was greeted with very different pages: The UK site took me to a dynamic page where, when I hovered the mouse cursor over a category, a corresponding image was displayed on the left. The bottom of the page also has a sliding carousel showcasing other “new-in” items. The US site also has a slideshow of items, but it’s not as dynamic as the British equivalent. Also, the Apparel landing page has much smaller images than the UK site. And did you notice the name of the page? “European designs womens apparel”— putting emphasis on its links to Europe and high-fashion.

I selected the Jersey Drape dress—an item available on both sites—in order to make a comparison. To change from sterling to dollars, Simply Be doubles the price—a £27 dress becomes $54. The copy is almost the same, but the US site states the item is imported and does not give the garment’s length in the product description, though it is included in the item’s title. When it comes to zooming in on the item, both sites offer a zoom function, though I would have liked to see a larger picture, as the image at 100 percent was not big enough to see close-up detailing.

Although both sites require a log-in to get into the checkout, neither sets out which payment methods are accepted before an account is created. In the interests of transparency, Simply Be should perhaps consider displaying payments methods (such as credit card, debit card, PayPal, customer account) somewhere on the home page.

The fully fledged US Simply Be website has only been live for a fortnight or so and I’d be interested to see whether it evolves at the same pace as its older sister, or whether, given the opportunities a US market opens up to Simply Be, it will soon overtake the British site in terms of traffic and functionality.--MT

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Huh of the day: Carr and Westley

I feel like I have been transported back in time. It’s not because the clothing range of Carr & Westley is reminiscent of a bygone era, it’s because the entire catalogue is in black and white. Well, apart from the red “save ££” signs plastered all over it.

Black and white? I don’t get it. When buying clothes, the first barrier to purchasing by mail order or online is that you can’t try the clothes on. The second barrier is not being able to see enough detail—and colour is top of that list.

I suspect that printing in two-colour is cheaper than four-colour, but with a fashion catalogue this could be a false economy. Customers need to know the colour of the garment—in black and white they can’t see the difference between “dusky” and “blush” pink. How red is the red dress? And am I the only person that had to look up delft blue?--MT

Monday, 16 August 2010

Compare and contrast: Lands’ End

This week sees Lands’ End launch its kidswear range in the UK, so as you would expect, the UK home page ( calls out the new line. In the US, however, Lands’ End ( has been selling childrenswear for some time (about 20 years!), so it doesn’t need a big announcement. Yet, it is the US site that features childrenswear most prominently on the home page with its 25 percent off back-to-school.
The UK site (above) devotes most of the home page’s prime real estate to the new autumn collection: “Introducing new styles you’ll love to layer”. It has a strong call to action: “Autumn’s so easy to put together! Shop now”. Further, below the main images is a rotating special-offer banner promoting free delivery on orders of £75 or more, and a reminder to shop the summer sale.

Below the banner are four boxes: Information about Lands’ End famous guarantee, an invitation to sign up to emails, catalogue request, and a link to find out more about Lands’ End gardening project, opened in July at Barnsdale Gardens by Tim Curtis, the managing director of Lands' End UK. The link to the gardens takes users to the Lands’ End blog, where they can view ten photos from launch day. A nice touch about the links on the home page is that they are all dynamic; when a user hover his mouse cursor over the box, the copy “moves up” to show more. Lastly, the home page features links to the about us, special services and customer services pages, as well as to clothing departments and to Lands’ End presence on social-media sites.

In contrast, the US site’s home page (above), has a lot less going on. The site is wider (a scroll bar appeared on my screen to move it from left to right—this was not present on the UK site). It has one main image instead of the UK site’s two. And it has one main message—“25% off back-to-school. Everything you need to get back to class in style”. Below the main image is a static banner promoting overstocks of up to 65% off. Personally, I like the UK’s summer sale banner better. Calling it “overstocks” has connotations that Lands’ End overordered and is left with lots of unwanted items. Summer sale sounds more “fun”—the last opportunity to enjoy summer before the knitwear and scarves come out to play, or a chance to grab a bargain before heading off for more sun in warmer climes.

The US site lacks the dynamic links of its UK counterpart, instead it has a blue box with information on customer services. Where it trumps the UK site is that it has Chat Online and Call Me functions. Overall however, the UK site is more social—the US website only links to Facebook from the home page and curiously, the link to its Twitter feed ( can only be found on the Newsroom page. A missed opportunity to connect with customers?

Looking at the categories, Lands’ End US has more on offer—it breaks down its departments into men, women, girls, boys, swim, outerwear, shoes, school uniforms, for the home, luggage, overstocks, and Lands’ End Canvas—a seemingly younger-skewing Lands’ End subbrand. The UK site keeps its simple: women, men, swimwear, jackets and coats, footwear, girls, boys, and sale. (I found it a little odd that the US calls it “outerwear” but “shoes”, and the UK “jackets and coats” but “footwear”.)

Moving inside

Because the terms for the departments were so different (“pants and shorts” together in the States, but “trousers and jeans” in the UK) I typed cardigan into the search bar, which was reassuringly located in the same place on both sites. I was greeted with an almost identical results page and picked the Women's Blissful Draped Cardigan. In the US it was priced from $29.50; UK price £25… but let’s not dwell on that. Both sites offer a choice of ten colours, but again, the US site goes one better and displays a rating next to the product description. On the product page itself, the British site still features no ratings or reviews and there are subtle differences in copy. Guess which is for an American audience and which is for the Brits? (Answer below)

1.) A lightweight complement to just about everything.
Soft, feathery-light jersey knit
Blend of cotton and polyester keeps its shape, shrugs off wrinkles
Graceful draped collar
Easy-moving raglan sleeves
Falls to low hip
Fit 1: Modern. Fitted through the body; never too tight, definitely not boxy. Plus sizes are Fit 2: Original. Not too slim or too loose

2.) A lightweight cardigan to complement just about everything.
Soft cotton/polyester blend knit – keeps its shape, shrugs off wrinkles
Graceful draped collar
Easy-moving raglan sleeves
Falls to low hip
Fit 1: Modern – slimmer through the body; not too tight. Plus sizes are Fit 2: Natural – not too slim, not too loose
Ultimately the product pages show brand consistency, but why the UK site, which has done so well up to now engaging its customers through a blog, on Twitter, and on Facebook, should omit product reviews is a bit of a mystery.

Mix and match
Lands’ End is one of those cataloguers that gets it right—not least because its brand is world famous for its exemplary customer services. I also know that Lands’ End tests everything, so I assume that accounts for the subtle language differences. Clearly though there are some things the UK site does better than the US. The creative and dynamic imaging on the home page are more engaging for a start, and the social media links show a desire to keep in touch with customers. However, Lands’ End US actively invites live chat and customer reviews, so each could learn a little from its counterpart across the Atlantic.

And the product copy? The first example is from the American website (below). Though I would have expected more info from the UK site considering there are no user reviews to really describe how the product looks and feels.--MT

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Most popular Insight articles of 2010 so far...

Subscribers to the free weekly CataloguesCatalogues enewsletter will no doubt be familiar with the Insight section offering strategic and tactical advice for distance sellers.

If you don't subscribe, here's a taste of what you're missing. The following are our five most-popular Insight articles since January 2010.

What we learnt from 188 pre-Mother's Day emails--if you thought that most of the email newsletters received in the days prior would contain a special Mother’s Day offer, think again.

Five questions to ask before moving to a new web platform--because choosing a web platform can be such a complicated process, here are five questions you should ask yourself before committing to a new system.

Twelve ways to reduce cart abandonment--minimising cart abandonment is an ongoing process. Online merchants need to continually review their checkout process to ensure it isn’t too complicated, too long, and that it doesn’t ask for too much unnecessary information from the customer.

Then and now: Glasses Direct--comparing and contrasting a 2010 Glasses Direct catalogue with one mailed in 2008.

The January Catalogue Log--after receiving just 62 catalogues in December, it was somewhat of a relief that volume heralding the new year was back to a more respectable 131 catalogues.

To sign up to receive Insight--and CataloguesCatalogues--on a regular basis, click here.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

July Catalogue Log

Sixty-four percent of all catalogues landing at Catablogue e-business HQ in July 2010 featured some sort of offer or promotion on the cover. Nearly half of all the catalogues we tracked (49.5 percent) featured a sale or discount. This is the fourth consecutive rise in catalogues touting a special-price promotion on their front cover and marks the highest percentage ever for catalogues promoting sales and discounts since we started the Catalogue Log in January 2009. Up until now, the highest percentage was 43.7 percent, recorded in August 2009.

Compare this with last year: Of those catalogues we tracked in July 2009, 30.9 percent promoted a sale or discount on the cover. However, a year ago we logged in 149 catalogues, compared with only 91 last month. That being said, 91 catalogues represents a 21 percent increase on June 2010, so volume may be picking up again as we head into the autumn/winter season. Among those promoting a sale in July 2010 were apparel catalogue Crew Clothing, gifts catalogue The Owl Barn, and watch etailer Christopher Ward. I noted that the Christopher Ward catalogue landed on my doormat on 1st July—the day its sale started. Well, you'd expect great timing from a watchmaker—nice touch!

The percentage of catalogues offering a free gift with purchase remained roughly unchanged from last month, rising a mere 0.1 percent. Among the most generous was plants and bulb specialist J Parker, which offered customers 30 mixed narcissi with any order. Plus, if customers spent more than £40, they would also receive 30 tulips.

Free delivery was marginally less popular this month, down from 14.1 percent to 12.1 percent in July. One catalogue offering free P&P was apparel catalogue Peter Hahn. Though from the unappealing message on its front cover, I doubt it wanted many people to take up the offer. In capital letters it stated: “Offer valid once per household. Minimum order value £35. No cash alternative. Until 31 January 2011.” Obviously Peter Hahn doesn’t believe in a softly, softly approach. –MT

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Idea to steal--size guides

It’s not rocket science. There can’t be an apparel catalogue out there without some sort of size guide within its pages. And if there is, I’d like know how many returns it gets from customers citing sizing problems.

While most catalogues restrict the size guide to a boxed table on the last couple of pages, I liked this effort from James Inglis.

The cataloguer is a specialist seller of narrow-fitting shoes. Because of its niche, getting the fit right is presumably one of its USPs. Its size guide, therefore, is an A4 piece of thin card. Along the left-hand side is a ruler that doubles as a tape measure. On the right-hand side there’s a foot chart—customers place the chart on a “suitably thick book” and position their foot on the page to measure where it reaches and determine their shoe size.

There’s a very easy to follow, step-by-step guide to finding the right size. There’s even a telephone number to call if customers come across any stumbling blocks. Once armed with their shoe size, width and in-step, customers then head online to enter their measurements and work out their “personal fitting profile” as well as receive recommendations on brand and style that would be best suit. One small snag in an otherwise excellent idea; the website is under construction so I couldn’t quite put it all to the test. In theory, James Inglis is definitely taking a step in the right direction (…sorry)—MT

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

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Monday, 19 July 2010

The same but different

Last Thursday, I received two emails from Shop Direct Group, the parent company of Empire Stores and Littlewoods. The emails had an almost identical subject line: “NEWSFLASH! £15 off your first order + new arrivals”. The only difference was that Littlewoods called its new arrivals “hot”.

Recycling the headline is rather lazy from Shop Direct, which surely could have come up with two separate subject lines (unless all its brands went with this offensive to see which of them had the biggest response). What’s more, Empire Stores had tried the previous week to tempt us with “£15 off your first order + our new season collection”, further showing a relaxed attitude to email-subject-line brainstorming.

Back to the emails at hand though—what, aside from the subject line, do these emails have in common?
Where’s the deal?
Both emails dive straight in, displaying the offer above the fold. In a move I presume saves on back-end administration, both brands use the same offer code. I would have thought a slightly different code for each brand would better aid tracking—especially as codes so quickly end up online on websites like where they are used by non-email recipients and lose all connection to the original marketing channel.

The emails then lead into the second part of the subject line: the new collections. However, where Littlewoods (below) displays a selection of new arrivals, Empire Stores (above) devotes the space to a message that harks back to its agency catalogue days and reiterates its “buy now, pay later” terms. The Littlewoods’ range is also more expensive—a Diesel dress for £170, a South sequin jacket for £69. The most expensive item in the Empire Stores email is a jacket that costs £79.

Twiggy vs Coleen
There is a clear age divide in these emails too. Empire Stores is obviously targeting a more mature market—for a start, the outfits promoted are not as figure-hugging or skimpy as the Littlewoods new arrivals. Second, Empire Stores is using 60s model Twiggy as its face, compared with Littlewoods’ use of top WAG Colleen Rooney as its “style editor”. Another indication that Empire Stores is targeting an older demographic is the reinforcement that larger sizes are available and the copy’s emphasis on comfort, rather than trendiness.
In the jeans
Both emails also feature a Denim Store section. In the Littlewoods email, the item is illustrated by a graphic—no product pictures—and the copy: “Women’s Jeans 100s of styles from classic to big brands, from all the latest fits: skinny, bootcut and more”. The Empire Stores email has an expanded Denim Store section that features three pairs of jeans next to their price per week: “So Fabulous Distresses Tapered Jeans £30 or £1.50 per week.” The main copy for the Denim Store also highlights “great value” and the availability of plus-sizes.

Despite these emails having twin subject lines and a similar layout, Shop Direct has set out clear brand guidelines, based on age, size and financial status. We previously blogged about Shop Direct supporting two separate, but nearly identical, brands. It seems that this time round it’s had a rethink and set its brands apart.--MT

As an aside, I noticed a technical difference too. Littlewoods had a "click here to view the email in a browser" link, whereas Empire Stores didn't. The reason why is something I cannot work out.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Sorry isn’t always the hardest word

During the past few months or so, I’ve noticed I’ve been receiving more and more “Sorry” emails.

Most of these emails are covering up an error, like when Pet Supermarket put the wrong expiry date on a coupon—subject line “Appologies [sic] from Pet-Supermarket‏”. Some are to inform me that a sale has been delayed, as in the case of fashion etailer Oli, which sent me a serious looking plain-text email with the subject line “Sale delayed! We're really sorry‏”. Recently I received a rather baffling email from Roman Originals titled “Our Mistake, Your Reward”. There was apparently an “inconvenience” on its website the day before the email, but as I hadn’t tried to access the site, I don’t know what the issue was.

So when this came in from upmarket fragrance purveyor Penhaligon’s, I braced myself for yet another email excusing a snafu. But what I got was a twist on the sorry email—I got sorry as a marketing opportunity.
Titled “We're sorry - here's a little something to make up for it!”, the basic premise was that as Penhaligon’s doesn’t have anything in particular to shift, it’s decided to give customers 25 percent off everything in its range.

It’s win-win—for the consumer, he gets to choose any item rather than purchase a fragrance from the clearance section. And 25 percent is a hefty discount, after all. For Penhaligon’s, if this was a genuine reason, it shows that its forecasting is on the money and that it doesn’t have a lot of overstock. If it’s just another marketing ploy—a sale by any other name is still a sale, right?--MT

Monday, 5 July 2010

June Catalogue Log

Catalogue volume continued to decline in June. We received and logged just 75 catalogues in June 2010, compared with 129 this time last year. However, of those 75 catalogues, 60 percent carried some sort of special offer—including sales or discounts, free delivery or a free gift.

Breaking the data down further, the most popular offer was a sale or discount, offered by 40 percent of the catalogue covers we tracked. On the other hand, just 11 catalogues promised free delivery. That’s down appreciably from 24.1 percent of the May 2010 catalogues. The percentage of cataloguers offering a free gift was also significantly lower than last month—down from 20.5 percent to just 12 percent.

Among the offers we received was this from furniture retailer Barker and Stonehouse. Its 16-page summer sale catalogue was mailed with 10 vouchers worth £25 each. Customers were allowed to use one voucher per £500 they spent at the store or online.

As well as giving new customers 25 percent off “everything”, the Gray & Osbourn deal also included free P&P. The winner, though, in what could be the most free gifts ever promoted on a front cover, has to be Healthy Living Direct. Its catalogue promised free clip-on crystal earrings with any order of any amount, as well as two “surprise” free gifts.

Of the catalogues that didn’t promote a special offer, I liked this from shoe retailer Office. The magazine-format catalogue was inserted into Heat magazine and was themed around festivals—one of its main cover lines was a competition to win tickets to the Isle of Wight Festival. In true magalogue style, there’s a mix of editorial features alongside product—for example, the Festival lowdown lists all major festivals in the UK and abroad and the Field Day and Carry on Camping features spotlight products that will help you survive the festival season. Office has also cleverly formatted its shoe-related features. It has some great ideas to steal—from including a Staff Style section looking at what is worn around the Office office, to spreads that won’t look out of place in women’s fashion magazines.--MT

Friday, 2 July 2010

Mighty odd merchandising choice

I just received a press release from High & Mighty on the launch of its new website. As well as the usual “we’ve made it easier to shop” and “we aim to offer advice, style tips and a discussion forum”, High & Mighty has also announced it was selling home and electrical goods online.

Yes, it’s part of the N Brown stable--which through its myriad titles (just take a look at sells apparel, homewares, consumer electronics, white goods, and lots more--but seriously, is this the right move for High & Mighty?

The decision to sell electrical goods strikes me as a bit of a disconnect; the release says High & Mighty wants to be a “one-stop lifestyle channel for online shopping”—but why? For what it’s worth, I believe High & Mighty would be better off concentrating on getting deeper into its niche. Its database includes big and tall men that find it difficult to find clothes that fit on the high street, so why dilute the brand by adding fragrance and shaving products that can be bought in almost every other shop?

I once asked this question of consultant Meg Macmillan and she told me that “The most successful ventures have been those that built on existing core strengths of the brand, building on customer confidence in quality and value and offering products that were a natural progression and held true to the brand values.” I don’t see how High & Mighty selling plasma TVs fits into this (unless, as my colleague points out, it was a TV on a very tall stand!).

With Figleaves to become the latest brand to join the N Brown stable, does this mean we will see it selling fridges alongside knickers?--MT

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Email 101: Getting the basics right

Last month I was at an Ask the Experts conference organised by postal advice and management company Onepost. One topic that came up in most of the sessions was email and how to get the most from your email marketing efforts.

One delegate said that for his first foray into email marketing he used a rented email list and failed to generate a single response from it. The delegate insisted that the list was clean, legal and that the named contacts on it were the most relevant to his business. But I was baffled; what concerned me was that the whole campaign was based on the rented list when, as he's been in business for almost 20 years, he should have had a list of his own existing and prospective customers. Where was his housefile; why didn’t he know anything about his customers; was the copy all wrong; was the timing out of whack?

It was almost enough to put him off email for life. What he needed was Email 101, some back-to-basics advice on email marketing. As the day went on, I realised he wasn’t the only one. Several of the delegates were new to the sector and were keen to learn the tricks of the trade. To help them—and others in their position—get the most from email, below are some tips gleaned from the day and some suggested further reading from the Catalogue e-business archive.

1. Build your own list
Supplementing a mailing with rented names is standard practice in catalogue marketing and it can work in email too. However, a catalogue business should be building its own email list of current customers instead of relying on a rented file.
If you’re just moving into ecommerce after trading via bricks-and-mortar stores, for example, start capturing customer details in-store. If you mail a print catalogue, send a postcard or flyer asking for customers’ email addresses, you can even incentivise this by giving email subscribers 10 percent off their next order. To further grow your list, you can ask customers to send you their friends' details too. M and M Direct does this by including a Freepost postcard within its catalogue. If you trade online, make your email sign-up box clearly visible and be mindful not to ask for too much information at sign-up as this may put people off. Once you have a list of people you know are interested in what you’ve got to say, your emails are more like to elicit a response.
For more info see How to bolster your email list.

2. Subject line
At the conference, Dan Croxen-John of Applied Web Analytics advised email marketers—novices and experts—to test all aspects of an email campaign. Among the elements he suggested looking at were subject lines and personalisation—such as including a first-name salutation vs last name vs no name in the subject line.
There is still some debate about whether the word Free in the subject line will get you flagged as a spammer. It’s probably best to avoid it if you are new to email marketing and have not yet established a good reputation.
For more about testing subject lines and what else you should measure take a look at Five tips for better email testing.

3. Maximise your deliverability
Working with a good email service provider (ESP) is more likely to get your email whitelisted (the opposite of blacklisted) and past the spam filters. You can also improve your chances of being added to recipients’ whitelists by having a recognisable “From” field—this is usually your company name or the brand your customers will know you by.
To find out about improving deliverability see Ten tips for improved email deliverability.

4. Timing
According to speaker Mike Broomfield from digital marketing firm Intellegentia, getting the timing of your email right can reap great rewards. For business-to-business marketers, Broomfield suggests 11am on a weekday is a good time as most workers will have cleared their morning emails and attended their early meetings. For consumers, a lunchtime offer can work—Wallis recently sent me an email promising free delivery if I ordered between noon and 3pm on a specified day. You may also have noticed as a consumer that you’re being sent more emails at the end of the month and that “pay-day offers” are becoming much more prevalent. But get the timing wrong, and your efforts will be wasted. As always, the best advice from the experts is to test different timings and see which works best.
Here are Six common email marketing mistakes--and how to fix them

5. Content
None of the above tips will do much good if your copy and offers aren’t up to scratch. Think carefully about what you want your emails to say, and craft them with your customers in mind. Do you know what they want from you? Again, the experts recommend testing offers and copy before sending the email to the entire list.
You might also want to consider your image-to-copy ratio. Consider whether you have enough images, or too many. Do the images distract from the message? What does the email look like when images are disabled in a recipient’s inbox?
For more advice on design see Seven tips for improving your email design.--MT