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

Catalogue e-business Online Subscription

We know that our subscribers love receiving the print edition of Catalogue e-business; we know they like to read it during their commute to work, that they enjoy taking clippings and that they find it easy to use it for reference. That’s why we’re committed to continue producing a paper version of the magazine.

However, we also know that those who don’t subscribe want to read our articles online and share our content with their network. That’s why we’re introducing the online-only subscription especially for people who want to read the "Subscriber-only" articles on www.catalog-biz.com, but who do not wish to receive a paper copy in the post.

A one-year online subscription, costing £55, gives you complete access to all the content on our website, including the archive of past issues of the magazine, plus month after month of strategic and tactical guidance on ecommerce, multichannel marketing, print production, operations and fulfilment, and business management.

For just £55 a year, an online subscription enables you to read articles from our regular contributors including Herschell Gordon Lewis, Murray Kenneth, and Ernie Schell as well as all our Q&A interviews with industry leaders and up-and-comers, in-depth web and catalogue critiques, and much more.

To take advantage of this new subscription offer, call +44 (0) 1271 866221, or email subs@catalog-biz.com, quoting “online subscription £55”.

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 myvouchercodes.co.uk 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 www.homeshoppingdirect.com) 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