Friday, 26 February 2010

The misery of grocery shopping

Fans of the sitcom Father Ted will be familiar with the Christmas special in which housekeeper Mrs Doyle receives a tea-maker to take the misery out of making tea. “But maybe I like the misery,” she says and proceeds to sabotage the machine.

It reminded me of online grocery shopping, designed I presume to take the misery out of going to the supermarket. Think about it: no toddlers having tantrums in the aisles, no dirty looks from checkout staff when your shopping basket contains more than one tub of Ben & Jerry’s…

So I tried it, I placed my very first order with last week. The experience was flawless—website worked, payment worked, delivery was on time, and there was only one product substitution.

But something was missing—the misery of shopping in the supermarket, I suppose. Like Mrs Doyle, I rather like the misery, yet it goes against everything I believe in. I love shopping online—I buy everything from dog food to cleaning products online. So why didn’t I enjoy shopping for my groceries this way? My boyfriend thought buying groceries online was the best thing since sliced bread (probably because he didn’t have to load and unload the car), but for me the experience seemed more of a chore than actually trekking to the shops. I missed the adrenaline of impulse buying. I missed bumping into my friends for a chat. I missed taking my time idly browsing the aisles.

Buying groceries online is still more function than fun, and until it becomes less of a misery than actually going to the shops (something apparel websites do so well), I won’t be giving up on my weekly trip to the supermarket.--MT

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Then and now: Glasses Direct

Think back to 2008: The phrase credit crunch entered common parlance; we witnessed the collapse of Empire Stores, Woolworths, Zavvi, and countless others; and retailers had the worst Christmas since 1994. But what of those that weathered the storm—what difference have two years made? Let’s take a look at how a 2010 catalogue differs from a catalogue mailed two years previously. If you pardon the pun, I’ll focus on Glasses Direct.

I am comparing a January 2010 catalogue (above) with one mailed in Spring 2008 (below). Before I go any further, I must point out that Glasses Direct now appears to be producing monthly catalogues, which would explain why catalogue pagination is significantly down from 94 pages in 2008 to 68 pages this year as it moves from a seasonal mailing to a more frequent distribution. However, we should still see differences in design elements and the impact of new style trends.

Aside from the number of pages, an immediately noticeable change is the paper stock and binding. The 2008 catalogue is perfect bound, the pages are thick and the cover is made from card. The surface of both catalogues is silk, but the 2010 catalogue is saddle-stitched, with the cover of the 2010 edition about the same thickness as the main pages of the 2008 book. The rest of the 2010 catalogue is on thinner paper. This is probably a cost-cutting measure, especially if Glasses Direct is mailing more frequently.

Since 2008, Glasses Direct has undergone a logo change—from an eye and the company name in capital letters, to a lower case Glasses Direct (minus the and a logo shaped like three overlapping lenses. There is also a telephone number on the 2010 edition, a detail that is omitted from the cover of the 2008 edition. This has become best practice—prominently displaying a telephone number reassures customers that this is a “real company” and instils a degree of trust that should there be a problem, it can be solved by a human voice rather than a string of automated email replies.

Another thing missing from the 2008 cover is a special offer, something that is rectified on the front page of the 2010 catalogue. A special offer gives a catalogue “doormat appeal”, and presents the recipient with an additional reason to open the mailing. Discounts and sales are becoming increasingly popular on catalogue covers—our Catalogue Log statistics show that in January 2010 we received 8.1 percent more catalogues featuring a special discount or sale on the front cover than in January 2009. Further, less than a third of the catalogues we received in January 2010 made no mention of any special offers (free delivery or free gift, for example) on their covers.

Showing that it’s the little things that make a big difference, Glasses Direct instantly improves ease of shopping by displaying page numbers below the featured styles on the 2010 cover. Page numbers are absent from the 2008 cover, meaning that if any of the styles on the cover took your fancy, you’d be hard-pressed to find them without much flicking.

Moving inside the catalogue, Glasses Direct has made several improvements to the first spread. The 2008 edition devotes a whole page to founder Jamie Murray Wells’ letter. The letter reinforces Glasses Direct’s credentials, and further emphasises the company’s focus on customer service. The opposite page is a table of contents (above). Despite the letter’s friendly tone and informative message, the 2008 spread comes across rather bland. Fast-forward to 2010 and the pages have had a revamp (below). Gone are the letter and the page-long contents list. In their place are more details on the special offer, a shorter table of contents, logos of the designer ranges carried in the catalogue, and reasons to shop with Glasses Direct, as well as a quick guide explaining how to shop. The opening spread is more visually engaging, and manages to pack much more information into the space available without appearing cramped.

How to order information is reiterated on the order form of the 2010 catalogue. For some reason the 2008 edition includes three fold-out perforated order forms. Perhaps back then Glasses Direct expected more postal orders? The 2010 catalogue includes just one form in the centre presumably to pull out. Perforating the form was a nice touch, but the 2010 form wins by being better laid out. The 2010 form makes more of the optional extras (scratch resistance, anti-reflection) by categorising them into Budget, Bronze, Silver, and Gold packages—the good, better, best upselling concept. The 2008 form just seems to waste space on asking what colour case customers prefer. I also noticed that the 2010 form requires customers to send in their prescriptions, rather than allow customers to write it on the form. This could be for a number of reasons—possibly to stop users self-prescribing stronger lenses without a checkup? Or too many data input errors? There are no such restrictions on the Glasses Direct website—customers can order lenses online without proof of prescription, though they are required to agree to terms and conditions to confirm they are in possession of a valid written prescription.

The last four pages of the 2008 catalogue are devoted to answering frequently asked questions and outlining the terms and conditions. The 2010 catalogue dispenses with that information. This, again, could be due to the increased mailing frequency. It could also be that, like many companies that started out online, the catalogue is primarily a traffic driver to the website where all the information can be found.

What a difference two years make? In the case of Glasses Direct, a lot of subtle changes to improve the shopping experience. Just a simple change like stapling the catalogue instead of using glue improves usability (in that the catalogue stays open on the correct page as you look up the product number online). However, many of the images used are similar, the layout of the products is almost identical and the range is familiar yet expanded. As many a creative expert would tell you, sometime evolution is better than revolution.—MT

Friday, 12 February 2010

Valentine’s email we heart: Graham and Green

This year I have felt more than a little underwhelmed by the Valentine’s Day marketing emails I’ve received. My inbox has been heaving with lovey-dovey offers, but nothing’s grabbed me. It’s a case of the same-old, same-old I’m afraid.

That is, apart from this email I received from decor and gifts cataloguer/retailer Graham & Green.

Why I love it:

1. Timely
Received on 2nd February, the email meant I had plenty of time to take advantage of any offers it contained. I also received a follow-up on 7th February to remind me of the promotion. Just the one message and I might have forgotten about Graham & Green, too many messages would induced even more Valentine’s ennui. (Listen up Figleaves—six Valentine-themed emails since 2nd February is a tad excessive).

2. Eye-catching subject line
Few could resist a headline that promised a treat worth £500. I personally am a sucker for a good email incentive. The line “Win a Valentine's Day treat worth £500 from Graham and Green!‏” also evokes that the treat might be for me, the recipient, rather than having to spend it all on my other half.

3. Good-looking creative
Love the Art Deco font, and the contrast of the pink and the black. Knock-out type (white-on-black) is more difficult to read, but here, in my opinion, it works.

4. The main event
The prize is worth winning. Even the runners’ up prize is desirable.

5. Good merchandise balance
So many of the emails I’ve received have been the merchants’ regular stock propped up against roses or other pink stuff. Also, most gifts appeared skewed to a female recipient. The gifts for the guys were mostly uninspiring aftershaves, or too-expensive gadgets. This is why I like the Graham & Green email: his and hers gifts at a variety of price points—like a leather satchel for £85 or Pantone-coloured cufflinks for £39. There were also some ideas to make your home a more romantic setting too, and each category linked back to the Graham & Green website where more could be found. All in all, this was a very well thought out email that stood out amongst so many other “me-too” offers.--MT

Monday, 8 February 2010

Careless emails cost customers

We can all agree that email is a powerful sales tool, and a primary means for direct sellers to contact their customers. So when email goes wrong, it can have a big impact on the sender. Not least in lost sales, but also brand damage.

Just last week, I was contacted by a reader--let’s call him Mr C. Mr C had received an email from a children’s furniture cataloguer/etailer promising 20 percent off selected items in the new spring range. The well laid-out and colourful email highlighted a number of items in the main body copy. Mr C therefore assumed, as I’m sure we all would, that all the products featured in the email would be eligible for the discount. They weren’t. Three out of the nine products featured in the email were excluded from the promotion, making Mr C a very frustrated shopper. He took the view that the email was trying to “manipulate the trust of a customer”, and said he had no faith in the brand any more. Did it lose the sale? Yes.

I had a similar experience this weekend. I received an email from an etailer with a sale on wallets. Feeling tempted by a half-price offer I clicked through to the page and tried to add the wallet to my basket. Despite the website telling me that the item was in stock, my basket remained empty. I tried adding other items and coming back to the wallet, but to no avail. This company did not want to part with its wallet. Did it lose the sale? Yes. Did someone else get the sale? Yes.

Unlike Mr C though, my experience hasn’t put me off the wallet company altogether. Maybe I am more forgiving. Or maybe it’s because the items he was shopping for were pricey exclusive designs, whereas my same wallet could be found just a click away—albeit at full price. Would either of us shop at those companies again? Possibly, but it won’t be our first port of call.
I wouldn't go as far as saying these email blunders delivered killer blows to the brand, but they certainly dented confidence.—MT

Thursday, 4 February 2010

January Catalogue Log

After receiving just 62 catalogues in December, it was somewhat of a relief (except for the poor soul who has to file all the catalogues away) that volume heralding the new year was back to a more respectable 131 catalogues. That’s just nine catalogues fewer than received in November, but still lags far behind the 184 catalogues we received and logged in October. And that’s despite the country almost being brought to a standstill by the snow and ice in the first few days of 2010.

Apropos the weather, of the catalogues we received in January, business-to-business merchants Slingsby and Seton get kudos for making the most out of the “big freeze”. While the rest of us struggled to make it into work due to heavy snowfall and ice, Seton and Slingsby had put together catalogues to promote de-icing equipment and grit bins. But back to the stats.

Less than a third of the catalogues we received in January made no mention of special offers on their covers. As expected, from the month traditionally associated with retail sales, the number of catalogues offering a sale or discount was high, with 57, or 43.5 percent, of the catalogues we tallied promoting a price-related special offer. That’s 8.1 percent more than we received in January 2009. Yet, it wasn’t the highest number of sales and discounts recorded since we began compiling the Catalogue Log. That honour goes to August 2009, with 43.7 percent of the catalogues logged offering price promotions. The next highest number of discounts was recorded in May (42.6 percent).

Among the offers we received, we liked Catering Warehouse’s effort in creating a recommend-a-friend scheme. Although the incentive is small--£10 credit to customers’ accounts when they recommend the company to others—it shows the company is thinking outside the box and employing consumer marketing techniques to attract business customers.

Free delivery was also a more popular offer than it had been in November and December, with 28 catalogues (21.4 percent) advertising it on their front covers or covering letters in January. In fact, the figure was second only to October 2009, when we logged 21.7 percent of catalogues offering conditional or unconditional free delivery.

In December we logged just 6.5 percent of catalogues offering a free gift; in January that figure more than doubled. We calculated that 23 catalogues, or 17.6 percent, offered a free gift with purchase. It was the second-highest figure since we started recording incoming catalogues--a marginal second to June’s 17.8 percent.—MT

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Birthday blues

It was my birthday last week. People had warned me that it wouldn’t live up to the hype and they were right. But it’s not the party that let me down (the “big 0” celebration was fabulous), it’s the lack of promotional emails I received on the day that disappointed me.

“Event-triggered marketing” is such a buzz phrase—and some online retailers are better at it than others. But even Asos, which has sent me a “happy birthday” message for my last two birthdays didn’t bother this year. The only saving grace was an email from snow and surf gear etailer Blue Tomato which offered my €10 off my next purchase of €50 or more.

Retailers, take note: when you ask customers for their dates of birth, they fully expect something in return for divulging this delicate information. The least you can do is send them a special offer on their special day. Act smarter by analysing transactional history: for example, if the customer usually spends £40 or less, send an email offering 10 percent off a £60 spend. Even if the offer is never taken up, just the notion of “remembering” your customer’s birthday can make the recipient feel warm and fuzzy about your brand.--MT

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Catalogue e-business February issue

The February issue of Catalogue e-business hits desks this week. If you’re a subscriber, here's what you can expect:

  • Special focus on catalogue design and branding, with case studies from some of the sector’s best and how to avoid “worst practice”
  • A roundup of payment processing services to help you weigh up your options
  • Ten predictions for online retail delivery in the months ahead
  • Plus the latest news, a website 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

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 January’s edition.