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