Friday, 26 March 2010

Compare and contrast: Lush

Chocolate Easter eggs always seemed a British thing to me. The same way the Americans call Christmas “the holidays” to accommodate all faiths, I always thought Easter was handled similarly. I mean, they don’t have a bank holiday to enjoy. However, according to an American friend of mine, Easter eggs, especially chocolate ones, are big business across the pond. It is this conversation that first piqued my interest in this week’s compare and contrast subject.

Lush, a retailer of handmade cosmetics with a “green” ethos, is active in approximately 43 countries. Let’s take a look at Lush’s American site ( and its UK website ( to see how each handles Easter-related promotions, and what other differences there are between the two websites.

The first obvious distinction is that the two sites have very different layouts. The UK home page (below) is a simple black on white with the main space dedicated to Easter products such as egg- and chick-shaped bath bombs. The very bottom of the page is given to displaying links to the rest of the site.

The US site (below) has many more elements to it and is instantly more dynamic and engaging. First, it seems slightly larger, in that it takes a few more clicks of the mouse’s scroll wheel to see all the content compared with the UK home page. Second, the main part of the site is designed to appear as though it is on parchment or paper—with paperclips to boot. Whilst it uses a drop-down menu system for its product categories, like the UK site does, the American site uses smoother AJAX and animated icons that make the menus look slicker.

On the left-hand side of the US site are links to social-networking website Facebook as well as product links. The main part of the page is dedicated to a rotating graphic that flits between Easter offers and a caption competition. The US site looks “fun”—the cute chicks, eggs, and rainbows give it a cheery and uplifting air. If it weren’t for the colourful products on its home page, the overbearing black of the main banner on the UK site would make it look formal and corporate—an image I’m sure Lush does not want to portray.

Also missing from the UK site is a Favicon, an icon that sits in the address bar, on the page tab, or on a favourites bookmark, that can be customised as the brand’s logo or in its colours. The US site has one. Why this was left off the UK site is a mystery (see image, right). Another design element missing from the British site that’s present on the American home page is that the links to other pages of the site are image-based rather than text-based—users can navigate to the forum, a store locator, and to the Lushopedia (a cornucopia of product information) by clicking on the corresponding graphic. The UK site either features the links at the very top of the page (without images) or buries them at the bottom of the page (also without illustrations).

According to Amy Africa, the worst position for a search box is the top right of the site. Both Lush sites are mindful of that, but each chooses a different spot. The UK site goes for the middle of the top banner, whilst the US site places it where Africa recommends—the top left. However, the US site fails to act on another of Africa’s tips—where is the buy button? Whereas you can buy directly from the UK home page, visitors to the US site must first click on an item either in the rotating graphic or on the sidebar and then add the product to the basket

Speaking of product, moving inside the site I click on the “bath bombs” link in the US website and the equivalent “bath ballistics” link on the British site. Name-differences aside, I much prefer the US website’s grid layout. The UK site presents me with a page of “ballistics”, as I hover the cursor over a certain colour I highlight a particular type of ballistic. I then have to click through to see just that item. Hold on… where are the Easter-themed ballistics? Why aren’t they on this page? What else is missing from the main graphic and where can I find the item I want? Oh, wait a second, there's an option to “Change to grid view”. Much better, but it took a friend to point this out to me before I found it.

Whilst both sites devote a prime section of web real-estate to Easter, the US website comes off more modern, with a breezier design and more engaging copy. It seems odd to me, seeing as Lush was founded in the UK, that its American counterpart would get the better creative treatment—the UK site misses out on basics like a Favicon and dynamic imaging on its home page. The US site offers customers so much more—video content, the opportunity to join a campaign against seal hunting, and a note about the company’s eco-friendly packaging. For a business that prides itself on its hip attitude, Lush’s UK website comes off rather bland.--MT

Friday, 19 March 2010

Catalogue creative we love: Donald Russell

A picture is worth a thousand words. So I will keep this post brief to focus on the excellent photography in the spring 2010 Donald Russell catalogue. Having landed on my doormat just this week, this is already a serious contender for catalogue cover of the year.

Donald Russell, a purveyor of top-quality meats and poultry “gets it”. The photography is positively mouth-watering, with almost every cut of meat getting at least a quarter of a page worth of space. But the company also knows that consumers may need more persuading in order to part with £26 for just 16 sausages. So alongside appetite-whetting photos there are customer testimonials, logos of awards won, recipes, cooking instructions, tips on creating the perfect bar-be-que, and lots more. In one word: yum.--MT

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

What we learnt from 188 pre-Mother’s Day emails

As our UK readers are well aware, this past Sunday was Mother’s Day —a major event in the gift-giving calendar. You’d assume, as I did, that most of the email newsletters landing in my inbox in the days prior would have a special Mother’s Day offer—at the very least a cursory note not to forget 14th March. So it came as quite a revelation that out of a total of 188 promotional emails from cataloguers and online retailers received between 3rd March and 11th March*, 112 emails, or 59.6 percent of them, did not reference Mother’s Day at all.

As expected, business-to-business merchants didn’t promote Mother’s Day. I received emails from Slingsby, Machine Mart, Filplastic, and Teknomek that understandably did not factor Mother’s Day into their promotions. Out of those emails, my favourite was Teknomek, which used the opportunity to let recipients know of its presence at an upcoming trade show.

British mums must not be very sporty if the emails I received are anything to go by. Two golf-equipment retailers, County Golf and Direct Golf, sent out enewsletters during that (extended) week and neither suggested buying mum a new set of clubs for Mother’s Day. Derby House, a cataloguer that specialises in equine-related equipment and accessories, sent us at least four emails during the period and none gave us a mother-related special offer. Further, snow and surf brands Ellis Brigham, Extremepie, and Blue Tomato were just too cool to promote mums.

Also surprising was that quite a few apparel brands decided not to send out Mother’s Day-related offers. Kaleidoscope, Joe Browns, and Plumo were among those that didn’t mention Mother’s Day in any of their emails. The “worst offenders” in this category, however, were Wall London and Wallis. Wall sent three emails during that week and Wallis sent five—none promoted Mothering Sunday. This was made even worse by Wallis’s inclusion of a competition that would have been a perfect Mother’s Day hook. It was offering a two-night Champneys Spa break for the recipient and a friend. Why it did not add “or take your mum!” to the offer is beyond me.

Many of the retailers sent us more than one email during that week. This gave them scope to send one email with a Mother’s Day offer, and one without. Of those that sent us multiple messages, Roman Originals targeted the more organised of shoppers. It sent out an email on the 4th March with an offer for Mother’s Day; five days later, the offer was removed from the email. The same tactic was used by Baker Ross, Past Times, and John Lewis. Curiously, lingerie etailer Figleaves approached it the other way round. Its emails sent prior to 9th March were Mother’s Day-free zones. However, come the 9th, Figleaves’ subject line was: New spring arrivals, 20% off lingerie offer + 20% off nightwear - perfect for Mother's Day! Neom Organics also made a point of targeting last-minute shoppers on 9th March with the subject line: FREE Gift & Mother's Day Special Offers.

What did we learn from 188 pre-Mother's Day emails? That the majority of retailers aren't concerned with Mother's Day at all. So what were they promoting if not Mother’s Day? Seven percent promoted spring—or new arrivals for spring—whilst just two percent promoted Easter. Most of the offers focused either on specific ranges, promoting existing sales, or pushing product.

Of the 112 emails that didn’t promote Mother’s Day my favourites were:

Sent on 4th March with the subject line “Today's your last chance for 15% off at Boden, online. Shop now or miss out‏”, Boden’s email appeals to my cute receptors. It sent a similar email six months ago, I liked that one too!

Hotel Chocolat
Although the email has a tab labelled Mother’s Day, it didn’t directly promote Mother’s Day offers. What it did promote were Easter eggs—and lots of them. The email has an almost irresistible selection of chocolate eggs (irresistible because I cannot justify spending £22 on one Easter egg). Despite the amount of product featured in this email, it’s not confusing and doesn’t seem crowded. Hotel Chocolat called it its “Easter Eggs-ibition”, and it certainly seems to have a gallery feel to it. I particularly like the graphic at the bottom which compares the egg sizes to one another—a little “happy” egg right through to a giant chocolaty “Ostrich” egg.

This gets top marks for concept rather than execution. Received on 10th March—three days after the Academy Awards ceremony—the email from fashion etailer Oli is titled “The Oli Awards are here‏”. The categories are Best red-carpet dress, Hottest heels, and Must have accessory. There are three nominees and a winner. I like the idea—but the follow-through is lacklustre. Why did that green dress, or those platform shoes, win? Are they the most popular with customers? What makes them better than the other pieces in the list? The pieces were chosen by Oli staff, but there’s no reason behind their choices. What I’d liked to see is a pre-Oscars competition where Oli customers vote on their favourite pieces. The winner gets her favourite item and the reason for loving it into the email. Maybe next year?--MT

* Why did I choose the 3rd to 11th March? For a start, I factored in delivery dates; the 11th fell on a Thursday which still enabled delivery by Saturday. The 3rd was chosen to allow for emails with an early-bird offer to be included.

Friday, 5 March 2010

February Catalogue Log

The shortest month of the year held no surprises in terms of catalogue volume. We received and logged 89 catalogues, a decrease of 32 percent on January’s 131 catalogues. After the January high, it wasn’t the only decline we recorded; in February we noted that 34 catalogues, or 38.2 percent, offered a sale or discount compared with 57 catalogues that did so last month.

The percentage of catalogues offering a free gift was also down—from 17.6 percent in January to 16.9 percent in February, whilst free delivery was only marginally less popular—21.3 percent of covers promoted it, down from 21.4 percent.

What did surprise us about February’s stack of catalogues, however, was that none promoted Valentine’s Day on the cover. Considering that Brits spend at least £40 on Valentine’s cards and gifts (according to a recent survey we’ve come across) it seems a missed opportunity. And for those of you who think email is a more suitable medium for targeted Valentine’s messages, we were underwhelmed with those offers too.

Another big event in the gifts calendar overlooked by February’s catalogues is Mothering Sunday, which falls on 14th March this year. We received very few catalogues promoting Mother’s Day, despite our inbox buckling under the virtual weight of “treat your mum this Mother’s Day” emails. Of the catalogues that did mention Mother’s Day on the cover, Hotel Chocolat got the thumbs up for dedicating the edition to “our multi-tasking heroines”.

Past Times was another to celebrate Mother’s Day, but it wasn’t immediately obvious from the cover. It gave Mother’s Day the opening spread and promoted half-price trinkets and tapestries. We don’t know why Mother’s Day promotions are more popular via email than in print, perhaps you could tell us?

Finally in the spring shopping calendar comes Easter—and here cataloguers didn’t skimp, despite mailing at least six weeks ahead of the holiday weekend. Both Lakeland and JML featured promotions relating to tasty Easter treats; even b-to-b cataloguer Viking Direct got in on the action with its Easter-themed “Cracking products, service and value!” cover line.

Overall, the percentage of catalogues offering any sort of promotion was down from last month. Whereas less than a third of the catalogues we received in January made no mention of special offers on their covers, the figure rose to 37 percent, or 33 of all catalogues logged in February. With more new-season catalogues expected in March, we’re predicting fewer sales and discounts, but this might be offset with more free-delivery offers to encourage customers to pay full-price.--MT

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Welcome back, Jigsaw catalogue

There’s been chatter on Twitter today on what the Holy Grail of multichannel retail is. Some say it means doing away with catalogues to focus on web orders, whereas others contend that catalogues drive web orders and so should be more intelligently targeted. You may remember we’ve blogged about this subject before (see Which is the tail and which is the dog).

Our Twitter friends wanted hard evidence of what would happen to a company that stopped mailing catalogues. Well, it just so happens that this week we received a catalogue from tech specialist Jigsaw. The 24-page glossy catalogue looks more like a magazine. It features case studies and articles—product related, but not particularly salesy. As you’d expect from a company selling high-end computers and photography equipment, there was plenty of advice on getting the most of your tech. In short, the “magalogue” required more than just a cursory glance from its recipient—a smart move by Jigsaw that surely extends the publication’s shelf life.

So what’s this got to do with web versus print? Well, on page three of the magalogue, Jigsaw’s letter declares “What’s going on? I haven’t had a catalogue for ages”. It goes on to explain that as the company added more and more products to its range, the catalogue became “unwieldy, difficult to post and not great for the environment”.

However, axing the catalogue had a negative effect; customers contacted Jigsaw wondering what they had done wrong to be ignored. I find it strange, though, that Jigsaw didn’t keep customers in the loop via email. Or perhaps receiving emails doesn’t rank as highly with Jigsaw customers as receiving a catalogue through the post. In any case, it's clear that a print catalogue is important to Jigsaw’s loyal customers, to the extent that they felt compelled to contact the company to share their grievances.

Oh, and my favourite part of the letter: “To the charming fellow who complained at an event that he no longer had anything to read on the loo since we cancelled the catalogue—this is our gift to you”.--MT

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Most popular posts January/February 2010

It's hard to believe we're already in the third month of 2010. So to help you get up to speed, we've compiled a list of our top ten most popular articles and blog posts from the past two months in case you missed them first time around.

Then and now: Glasses Direct

Idea to steal: outfit builders

Compare and contrast: Damart

The January Catalogue Log

Valentine's email we heart: Graham & Green

The key components of an effective ecommerce site: 2010 version

The December Catalogue Log

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

Compare and contrast: Learning Resources

Ten warning signs of a failing business

This month in Catalogue e-business...

The March issue of Catalogue e-business hits desks this week. If you’re a subscriber, here's what you can expect:
* Special focus on database management, with advice on keeping your database clean and up-to-date, as well as how to take advantage of advanced segmentation
* Customer feedback feature looking at how ratings and reviews can boost your bottom line
* Ask the expert—Stephan Spencer tackles an SEO problem
* 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 February’s taster edition.