Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Compare and contrast: Damart

As a Yank who lived most of her adult life in the Boston-New York corridor, I wasn’t impressed by what passed for record-breaking low temperatures here in England's West Country. But I was impressed that the cold spell boosted sales at Damart, best known for its thermal underwear, by 20 percent. So that seemed as good a reason as any to compare Damart’s UK and US ecommerce sites.

At first glance it’s apparent that Damart makes a real effort to localise its sites, down to the tagline: “You think you know Damart… think again!” in the UK (above), “… more than you imagine” in the US (below). The point the company is trying to get across is that it sells much more than warm undies. This is especially obvious on the UK site, where the home page includes tabs for Ladieswear, Menswear, Underwear, Footwear, Household, and Sale in addition to Thermal. The Stateside product line is much narrower, with just three product categories: Menswear, Accessories, and Ladieswear.

It seems counterintuitive that the US home page doesn’t include a category link dedicated to thermal garments. It does have a banner touting “Warmth & Comfort with Damart Innovation Thermolactyl”, but as HL Mencken wrote, “No one in this world… has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people”, and this might be too subtle for busy shoppers seeking thermal undies. If you ask me, Thermolactyl sounds more like a dinosaur than a type of toasty fabric.

The US site gets short shrift in several ways compared with its British counterpart. There’s no contact phone number; you can order via the web only, and if you have any questions, you must ask them via an online form. Given that Damart’s target audience seems to skew older, this seems like a grave error. Would it really be unprofitable for the company to contract with a third-party call centre in the States or set up some other type of telephonic solution? The UK site posts the number in boldface on its left-hand navigation bar, albeit just below the fold. The UK site also displays its security credentials on the bottom of the home page, whereas the US site doesn’t, which again seems to be a miscalculation given the age of the target market.

And of course, there’s the fact that the US product range is much more limited. I counted 59 SKUs on the US site (yes, my dedication is such that I actually tallied the number of products). The British site has... well, appreciably more (I’m not dedicated enough to count what appear to be hundreds of SKUs).

Because the Stateside offering is so much smaller, the navigational options are fewer. You click on one of the three product categories and, for the Ladieswear and Menswear, are shown a page with links to two subcategories (Tops and Pants); for Accessories you’re simply shown the first page of products. The subcategory pages feature eight product thumbnails per page; you can sort the items by price or name. The product pages enable you to see a slightly larger version of the main image—not detailed enough to give you any sense of the fabric quality—and colour swatches.

Some of the product images include a warmth rating, and of those items, only some of the warmth ratings are visible on the subcategory page thumbnails. So if you were shopping for an ultra-toasty vest, say, you’d have to click every single item to find the warmest. Or, if you’re like me, you’d say, Sod it, and head to Google, where you’d type in something like thermal vest and take it from there.

The UK site resolves this issue with its category pages. The Thermal category page, for instance, features separate columns for Ladies, Men, and Warmth Accessories, and under these are links to subcategories for product types (pants, vests) and warmth ratings. The product pages themselves are similar to those on the US site.

The British site also does a somewhat better job of highlighting Damart’s “innovations”—its patented materials. Just below the search box on the top of the left-hand nav bar is a box with links to several of its fabrics: the aforementioned Thermolactyl, the equally prehistoric sounding Climatyl, something dubbed Ocealis (a name that’s uncomfortably similar to Cialis), and “Other innovations”.

These fabrics sound impressive: “OcĂ©alis [the accent is used here but not elsewhere on the site] is a revolutionary new double faced fabric with breathable fibres, designed to keep you dry and comfortable through the hottest summer days. As a fibre that 'breathes', it quickly removes your perspiration and creates a dry and healthy climate, even during the hottest of summer days.” Granted, the copy could have used some editing; there’s no reason to repeat “hottest” and “summer days” at the end of both sentences, and the strapline, “Freshness in an instant”, brings to mind a feminine hygiene product. But as someone who begins to sweat profusely when the temperature hits 21C/70F, I’m intrigued. And what do you know: The Ocealis page includes links to the products made with the fabric.

I know that the purpose of the article is to point out the similarities and differences between the UK and US versions of the website, but what’s most apparent to me is that neither makes the most of what I’d consider Damart’s unique selling point: its exclusive, innovative fabrics. If I sold clothing made of fabrics that kept you cool and dry in hot weather, warm and dry in cold weather (Thermolactyl), and at an “ideal, constant temperature” regardless of the weather (Climatyl), I’d be bragging about it on my home page, not hoping that visitors are curious enough about my “innovations” to click on the link, regardless of which country I’m marketing to.—SC

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Idea to steal: outfit builders

Outfit builders are usually the preserve of fashion cataloguers. But I like this take from bicycles and accessories merchant Evans Cycles, which takes customers through what to wear when cycling during the winter.

I especially like the way Evans Cycles points to each garment and spells out the item’s benefit. For example, the copy for shorts and knee/leg warmers reads: “an alternative to tights or ¾ lengths you could wear a pair of shorts combined with either leg or knee warmers as this gives you maximum versatility for riding in variable temperatures.” (Whilst I love almost everything about this idea, one thing I would change is that I’d put page numbers next to each product so customers sold on a particular item could flick directly to it.)

Outfit builders shouldn’t be confined to party wear, I can see this working for every sport that requires specialist clothing. And why stop at sport—think health and safety catalogues, nursing supplies... In fact, the outfit builder could form a staple component of any catalogue selling industry-specific clothing.--MT

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Huh of the day: inaccurate reflection

Today I received a catalogue selling a range of upscale mirrors and frames. The covering letter opened with: “It is our pleasure to enclose our brochure and price list for 2008.” Come again? We’re now 12 days into 2010 and I am still getting covering letters referencing 2008 price lists--seriously, is it that difficult to amend a letter?

Even worse is that at the bottom of the letter the company stipulates that prices are held for three months only. So what on earth is the point of mailing a 2008 price list in 2010?

It rings alarm bells that the company may be heading for the wall if it cannot even be bothered to update a price list. And I imagine there’s nothing worse for a mirror specialist with an image problem.--MT

Monday, 11 January 2010

Catalogue e-business January issue

The January issue of Catalogue e-business hits desks this week. If you’re a subscriber, here's what you can expect:
Business Health Check—with a new year ahead it’s time to examine where improvements can be achieved in all areas of your business
Small-business spotlight— advice for businesses seeking to raise finance
Operations—measuring the efficiency of your warehouse
• Plus the latest news, a catalogue review, Q&A with…, and much more.

If you don’t subscribe, you can click here to view a taster edition of the latest issue. But remember, the only way to read the magazine from cover to cover is to subscribe.

To have the print edition of Catalogue e-business magazine delivered to you, or for more information, contact Jill Sweet on 01271 866221 or subs@catalog-biz.com.

To sign up to receive the digital edition—and gain access to archive content on the Yudu library—please click here and follow the login instructions.

Missed the last issue? Click here to view December’s end-of-year special edition.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Not hot on cold-related promos

Marketers are opportunistic by nature. So it’s surprising to see that relatively few are using the record cold temperatures and snowfall to anchor promotional emails.

Maybe merchants are concerned about the difficulties parcel carriers are having reaching some areas of the country. Numerous websites have caveats on their home pages admitting to weather-related delays. That concern shouldn’t hold you back, though: Consumers who are finding it difficult to get to the store to replenish their waning supplies of tea and milk (or in my case, Diet Coke) are well aware that delivery delays are inevitable, so a simple reminder on the website is enough. If they then decide not to place an order, so be it. But at least do what you can to get them to your website (or your call centre) first.

Home decor retailer Brissi, for instance, informs visitors to its home page that its carrier, DHL, is having some difficulties. And to drive consumers to that home page, it sent out an email with the subject line “Beat the freeze, we are delivering to your doorstep for FREE!”. The copy continues in the same vein: “Beat the Big Freeze and avoid the icy roads, now there is no need to venture out, while the cold snap is biting we are delivering everything to your door for FREE! Yes, free package and posting. So what are you waiting for? Put the kettle on, sit comfortably, browse through our gorgeous collections...”

Gifts merchant Past Times takes a similar approach with a recent subject line: “Beat the freeze and shop our Winter Sale online”. The email itself is a generic “sale continues” sort of thing, but by putting a more timely spin on the subject line and creating a benefit in the minds of readers (no need to trek out in the cold; we’ll enable you shop while lazing in front of your fireplace in your Slanket), Past Times manages to instil a bit of urgency and interest.

Apparel retailers arguably have it easier than most others when it comes to tying a promotion into the weather. Cataloguer Bonprix does it nicely while confirming its brand image as a source of fashion savvy on a budget, “Beat the big chill by layering!” reads the subject line. The text continues, “There's only one way to beat the big chill this winter and that's the layer look. Fight off the cold with a cami under a jumper, a cardi, and a coat and then simply peel off a layer at a time when you're back in the warm. For more inspiration, view our online fashion show to see just how it's done.” The runway video that the email links to does a great job of piling multitude items of clothing on each model; I wouldn’t be surprised if the clothes weighed more than some of the mannequins. But they sure look both warm and chic.

So many others missed this easy opportunity, though. EasyvoyageUK sent out an email to promote bargain trips to warmer climes. Its subject line: “Caribbean flights for under £650 pp”. Okay, that’s factual, but not very evocative. How difficult would it be to warm up the subject line with something like: “Get out your bikini—fly to the Caribbean for under £650” or “What big freeze? Warm up in the Caribbean for less”. Before you creatives write in to tell me that those subject lines stink, bear in mind that I whipped them up in a matter of seconds. I’m sure you could do better with just a bit more time—so why not take that bit more time and at least test a more relevant subject line?

Gadgets mailer I Want One of Those did more than simply come up with a clever subject line; it came up with a contest as well. “Stuck at home?" begins the email. "Use that snow before the gritters get to it! While you're working from home (or occasionally checking the work email and watching Cash in the Attic), why not make us a snow creature and post a picture on our Facebook wall? The best one posted will get a tasty £100 IWOOT Voucher! All we ask is that you include a purple element into it somehow, just to prove you're not dragging out photos from Winter '87.”

I received the email at around 3:30pm on 7th January. By noon on 8th January, 151 snow creature pix had already been posted on the I Want One of Those Facebook page. The email about the contest didn’t push product, but it certainly helped engage customers with the brand and, judging by the retweets on Twitter, is spreading the word to prospects as well.

The only things more clever than the promotion are some of the snow creatures photographed for the contest. This photo and caption made me laugh, but my favourite is the one labelled “Snowman cat & dog by Justin Adams” (see below), which for some reason reminds me of Jeff Koons's Puppy.—SC

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Compare and contrast: Learning Resources

Though relatively small, educational-toys cataloguer Learning Resources was one of the first US mailers to expand into the UK, first targeting British teachers in 1994. More than 15 years on, the company now targets parents as well as instructors on both sides of the Atlantic. When it comes to ecommerce, though, the UK website appears to suffer from a steeper learning curve than the US one.

In some ways, the UK website (learningresources.co.uk) resembles the US website of several years ago. Stateside marketers still believe that the British marketplace is several years behind their own. I’m not about to argue whether such remains the case, but I will say that I see no reason for the British site to have been designed to fit such a narrow width (see above), so that the right-hand third of the screen is blank.

The typography of the UK site is dated as well, with display copy appearing in an intentionally uneven serif font that’s no doubt meant to suggest a sense of whimsy and that, if I recall correctly, used to be prominent in the print catalogue. What works in one medium, however, doesn’t always work in another, and what worked five years ago doesn’t necessarily work now.

The US site (learningresources.com) looks much more up-to-date (and not just because the logo in the top left corner is adorned with a blanket of snow!). The main image is huge (see below), and there’s a navigation bar across the top, with separate tabs for parents and teachers. The home page of the UK site has two distinct images to direct you to the appropriate section. What’s more, its navigation bar is a small box in the right-hand column.

The British site does enable visitors to download free sample pages and the table of contents from several dozen of its books. Surprisingly the US site doesn’t seem to offer this feature, which I’d imagine really helps convert sales. Then again, the US site has two distinct Resource Centers, one for educators and one for parents, which include free downloadable activity sheets; parenting and teaching articles; and for educators, the ability to search the product database to see which items correlate to the various state and national teaching standards. Given that each US state has its own standards, that’s impressive enough; it also reaches out to Canadian teachers by offering the same feature for the various provincial standards.

In addition, the US site includes videos demonstrating how to use some of its products. I had problems accessing several of these demos, however, which was a shame. I was really curious to watch the video for the Teaching Cash Register, which I’d given my daughter as a gift back when she was four or so. She loved it, but unfortunately it didn’t help her learn how many dimes make up a dollar or how many nickels a quarter. Perhaps the video would have showed me what I did wrong. (Though I suspect that encouraging her to pretend the cash register was a typewriter or a piano didn't help.)

Enough of my reminiscing; let’s go shopping. The US site enables you to navigate by subject, product category, theme (such as animals, human, and multicultural diversity), or brand. UK shoppers don’t have the theme, brand, or category options, but they can drill down by age and by price as well as by subject. Being able to narrow products by age group seems particularly useful for this niche; I can’t think of a reason for the US site not to allow it.

The product pages on the US site (above) include the breadcrumb trail, which I always find helpful. The UK site lacks this navigational aid, but I’ll try not to hold that against it. The UK site also lacks customer reviews—for shame!—though the product copy gives prominent play to any industry awards or plaudits the particular items have won.

When it comes to overall product page presentation, the US site wins hands down. The copy is bullet-pointed for easier readability, the product image is fairly large, multiple images are available, and included are photos of recently viewed products and other products “you may also like”. There are customer reviews, a “tell a friend” button, and the ability to add an item to a wish list.

On the UK site, you’ve got one rather small image (below), several dense-looking blocks of copy, and below the fold in many cases, “related products you may be interesting in browsing”. I appreciate that Brits tend to be more genteel than Yanks (or are at least perceived that way), but “related products you may be interested in browsing”? Just come on out and say “Other products you may like”, for goodness’ sake; you won’t offend anyone, honest.

Could a fear of offending Brits by being too pushy be why the UK site doesn’t ask for visitors’ email addresses? One person who’s no doubt offended by that is internet guru Amy Africa, who insists that if a website does nothing else, it must get the email address of its visitors, so that it can continue to market to them. This reticence on the part of the UK site, along with its reluctance to adopt features such as multiple images and customer reviews that are becoming standard (if they’re not already) on both sides of the Atlantic, shows that Learning Resources’ British team have much to learn from their Stateside counterparts.—SC

Monday, 4 January 2010

December Catalogue Log

Each year we read that consumers are waiting later and later to complete their Christmas shopping. But marketers are apparently not waiting till the last minute to send their catalogues. In December we received just 62 catalogues, the lowest volume of any month in 2009 except April. (And I’m sure that the scant 40 catalogues we tallied in April was some sort of aberration. Gremlins must have swiped the bulk of our post that month so that they could order more spanners to throw into works.) By way of comparison, in November we received more than twice as many catalogues—140.

Half of the December catalogues made no mention of special offers on their covers or in their covering letters. This is a statistically insignificant increase from the 49.3 percent of November’s catalogues. What’s more the percentage of free delivery and gift-with-purchase offers declined. Whereas 19.3 percent of the November catalogues advertised free P&P, just 12.9 percent of the December catalogues did. Likewise, 14.3 percent of the November catalogues touted a free gift, compared with 6.5 percent in December.

These numbers might lead you to believe that fewer marketers felt the need to reduce their margins in order to gain sales from procrastinating Christmas shoppers. But the percentage of catalogues offering sales and discounts refute this: 37.1 percent of the December books boasted of discounts and similar offers, up from 31.4 percent in November.

Only five of the 62 catalogues prominently displayed their order deadlines for Christmas delivery. Maybe that was because most of the cataloguers didn’t have particularly user-friendly deadlines. Knitwear mailer Wolsey, for instance, gave noon, 16th December as its cut-off date—not much of a help for last-minute shoppers. Discount fashion mailer M and M Direct had the latest deadline: midday on 22nd December.

Conversely, Argos targeted early birds with its Furniture Sale insert, which let customers know that the sale began on Christmas day.

Now, as a treat for the wonks amongst you, a few year-end statistics. In total, Catalogue e-business logged in 1,476 catalogues in 2009. September was the month with the greatest volume, a back-breaking (for the posties) 212 catalogues.

May saw the highest percentage of catalogues with prominent sale or discount offers, 43.7 percent. The March books, meanwhile, were the least likely to boast of discounts and price cuts, with just 28.1 percent doing so. For all of 2009, 523 catalogues, or 35.4 percent, made a point of promoting discounts and sales.

Free delivery was most popular in October, with 21.7 percent of the catalogues offering it, and least popular in February, when only 7.3 percent offered it. For the entire year, 219 catalogues, or 14.8 percent, offered conditional or nonconditional free P&P.

Slightly less popular as a promotion was the gift with purchase. All told, 191 of the catalogues received last year, or 12.9 percent, offered it. June was the most popular month for free gifts, when 17.8 percent offered them.--SC

Most popular posts--December 2009

If you spent the first few days of the new year wondering what our most visited blog posts were in December, the wait is over. Here are the top ten most popular Catablogue e-business posts of the last month of 2009:

All the Rage this Christmas

What we learned from one day’s worth of pre-Christmas emails

November Catalogue Log

What’s in a tweet

Click your support

Most popular posts--November 2009

It's a magical world, Hobbes...

Quick ecommerce takeaways from Amy Africa

The big book isn't dead yet

Silly propping