Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Christmas covers 2011

Christmas is a time of traditions and in the Direct Commerce office one of my favourites is the Christmas covers blog post. Although most of the catalogues received in the run up to Christmas were taken to ECMOD on 30th November, I kept a few favourites in a secret drawer until I was ready to reveal this year’s top four. And they are...

1. Continuing with the spirit of tradition, here’s a catalogue cover that could have been produced in the mid-20th century. Is that a good or a bad thing? You decide. For us in the Direct Commerce office, this cover from The Original Gift Company encapsulates Christmas—creeping down the stairs to check whether Santa’s been, a beautifully decorated tree with presents galore—all from The Original Gift Catalogue, I assume. I like the tagline too: “Delivering the magic of Christmas”, which works on a number of levels. Finally, remembering that a catalogue has to do more than just look appealing, the cover carries a message that gift personalisation is free and sets out the last-order dates to reassure customers that The Original Gift Company really has thought of everything. 
Original Gift Company
2. The Little White Company caught my attention purely because of the little girl whispering to the little boy. I like to imagine what they’re talking about. My favourites are “that big stocking’s mine” or “I’ve got more presents than you”, but we’ve had lots of fun coming up with other captions. I also like the set The White Company created for its cover and how it effortlessly hints at everything a customer can find inside, from furniture to rugs, from giant stockings to childrenswear. 
Little White Company
3. The Scarlett Willow mailer arrived early in the season to announce that the Christmas boutique was now open. It was a favourite right from the start—I love the snowflake motif and the twinkly lights creating a flare effect on the cover; I like the simplicity of the propping—a silver spoon, a paper placeholder; I also like the tableware specialist’s emphasis on personalisation and the call to action to see the whole range online. The mailer only has eight pages to capture the imagination, but it gets it spot on. There were stocking fillers, kids’ gifts, best sellers and personalisation ideas. As a driver to encourage me to visit the Scarlett Willow website, this definitely succeeded.

Scarlett Willow
4. The Christmas wildcard comes courtesy of gardening supplies cataloguer Wiggly Wigglers. This cover certainly made me stop and think: What’s a bull got to do with Christmas? What’s so special about this bull? Who is Trojan Fred? What does he have to do with Wiggly Wigglers? I feel like an outsider stumbling on a private joke. Do existing Wiggly customers already know Trojan Fred’s story and I don’t? I’ve scanned the catalogue from cover to cover to try and find out more, but failed. However, despite a frustrating front cover, the Wiggly Christmas catalogue does a lot right. There’s a special offer on the cover that encourages customers to spend more than £40 on their order and I love its “why buy Wiggly” spread on pages 4 to 5, which has some very convincing reasons to shop at Wiggler Wigglers. Also, I fear that if I say no, Trojan Fred might come after me.
Wiggly Wigglers
I can’t end this post without a mention for my favourite back cover. While the males in the office would probably disagree, I much prefer the back cover of the Figleaves catalogue. The front seems the obvious choice—a seminaked woman. The back cover took a little more thought, fairy lights and baubles instead of a log fire, stockings hanging from the mantelpiece and a selection of gift boxes either side of the fireplace. It has a more Christmassy feel. But like I said, I’m sure at least half the population would disagree.--MT

Figleaves' front cover   Figleaves' back cover

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

November Catalogue Log

It’s official, cataloguers are discounting more heavily in the run up to Christmas. The Catalogue Log data compiled by Direct Commerce magazine shows that in November 2010, 27.5 percent of the catalogues received featured a sale or discount on the front cover. Back then, it was the lowest percentage of catalogues touting a special-price promotion recorded since we began tracking the data. This year, even though the level declined on a month-on-month basis, November 2011 still saw a third of catalogues (32.6 percent) feature a discount or sale on their front page.

Among them, Crew Clothing tested a number of offers, including 15 percent off, free delivery and free returns; 20 percent off plus free delivery and returns and £25 off. Figleaves, Great Little Trading Co, Saltwater and Russ Andrews also sought to tempt shoppers with money off their orders. And it’s not just discounting—cataloguers are throwing in more incentives to persuade consumers to shop with them. The percentage of catalogues offering free delivery rose from 18 percent in November 2010 to 20.8 percent in November 2011. As a hook, apparel cataloguers coupled free delivery with free returns—as seen at White Stuff, Pure Collection and Brora.

When it came to free gifts, however, more catalogues used the tactic in the 2010 festive season than this year. It was just a marginal decrease though, from 8.4 percent in November 2010 to 7.3 percent in 2011. Among those promoting a free gift with purchase were angling catalogue Fishtec, packaging catalogue Rajapack, Laithwaites Wines, and kitchenware brand Jean Patrique, which gave away a free kettle. 

Jean Patrique

November 2011 was generally more promotional on a year-on-year basis with more than half of the catalogues (51.1 percent) featuring some sort of offer on the cover (sale, discount, free delivery or free gift), compared with 46.7 percent in 2010. But it wasn’t on a month-on-month basis. The Catalogue Log shows, in what may seem a counter-intuitive move compared with how the high street is tackling Christmas, that as the big day approaches, cataloguers are toning down their aggressive promotional strategies. Just take a look back at September, when 39.4 percent of catalogues featured a sale or discount on the cover compared to 32.6 percent in November. In October, that percentage rose to 41.9 percent. More prevalent in the festive period 2011 are free delivery offers, which make home shopping even more convenient at this time of year. The 20.8 percent we tracked last month is the highest percentage recorded since August and up on last November’s 18 percent. Those offering free delivery included Bettys, M and M Direct and Lands’ End.
In total, we received 178 catalogues in November 2011, a 6.6 percent increase on the same month last year, and a 16.2 increase on November 2009. It is the highest number received in 2011--MT


Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Bid in our silent auction and support the Children's Hospice South West

Synergy Partnership Ltd, which supports the home shopping and direct commerce sector via a range of events, awards and publications--including Direct Commerce magazine, has “adopted” Children’s Hospice South West via its fundraising activities for the next 12 months.

As part of our fundraising drive, we are running a silent auction featuring some top prizes kindly donated by our partners. Please show your support for this very worth charity by bidding in our silent auction--but hurry, closing date for bids is Monday, 12th December.
To see the prizes on offer and make your bid, visit http://svy.mk/ecmodauction.

ECMOD Supplier of the Year Award Winners

The very best of the UK’s specialist suppliers to the direct commerce sector have been recognised at the prestigious ECMOD Supplier of the Year Awards 2011.

Thirteen companies received their awards at a special networking evening ceremony held at the Business Design Centre in Islington, during the ECMOD Direct Commerce Show. The annual awards event aims to recognise the outstanding contribution these organisations make to the catalogue and multichannel retail sector. In total, 39 businesses reached the final shortlist.

Unlike many others, the awards expressly call for nominations from client companies, asking them to vote for the suppliers that have contributed the most to their businesses.
The winners are:

Best third-party order fulfilment – AMETHYST
Best creative and design service – CREATIVE MOUSE
Best mail delivery solution – CITIPOST
Best international support service – ESSENTIAL COMMERCE
Best home delivery service/solution – HERMES
Best web and digital development services – CHANNEL ADVISOR
Best print production service – EC2I
Best media planning service – THE INSERT HOUSE, part of the Specialist Works Group.
Best technology solution – SANDERSON

Four further companies were also commended in a number of brand new categories:

Most effective website optimiser – PEERIUS
Most effective online campaign optimiser – REDEYE
Most effective use of predictive analytics – MORE2
Most valuable contribution to business through data - ABACUS

Footage and photos from the night will be available soon from www.ecmod360.co.uk.  --MT

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Using the power of reviews for good

About three years ago the world went ratings and reviews mad. It was the number-one website must-have and we couldn’t keep up with news of online retailers installing third-party reviews software on their websites or developing their own ratings systems.

Reviews hit the headlines again recently, with news of people trolling reviews sites like Tripadvisor intentionally leaving unfounded negative comments. But despite being in the news for all the wrong reasons, reviews can still be a force for good.
Muddy Puddles

It’s widely accepted that consumers trust other people’s reviews, and for many online retailers, the content is already there, so why haven’t more direct sellers made use of the feedback in their offline marketing?

Muddy Puddles, a catalogue of outdoor clothing for children, is on what seems to be a very short list of cataloguers using their online products reviews in their direct mail. And I’m scratching my head as to why.

At Muddy Puddles, the company uses its online user-generated content in the form of testimonials: “Cosy and well designed. Perfect for playing in the snow and skiing”, says one customer of the Performance Mitt; “The fleece is so beautifully soft and snuggly, my son wants to wear it all the time”, says another of the Hooded Fleece. To validate the claims, Muddy Puddles publishes a logo of Feefo, the independent reviews system it uses, with its 99 percent service rating.
Charles Tyrwhitt
Industrial equipment catalogue Slingsby also uses Feefo to gather customer feedback online, and featured a spread of reviewed products on its Work It magalogue, while businesswear cataloguer/retailer Charles Tyrwhitt, which I know also uses the same provider, uses testimonials from satisfied customers in its catalogues, but doesn’t necessarily attribute them to the online reviews system.

In my opinion, cataloguers can leverage reviews to be even more practical than that. People read reviews because they are looking for advice on whether the product will meet their needs. To put this in context, I need a new hairbrush, but the one I have been buying at the Body Shop since I was 16 years old, is no longer on sale. The brush in its place is not quite the same: “I thought this was the same as my lovely old one with smooth pins--please bring those back”, pleads one customer on the Body Shop’s website. Another two-star review says the brush didn’t suit her thick curly hair. These two reviews led me to go back and look at a different brush, which had a higher customer rating and lots of praise on its detangling prowess. That’s the one that got the sale.

So how about incorporating advice from online reviews in your catalogues to guide customers to right purchase? For example, apparel cataloguers could use reviews that advise on size: “Sizes quite large, so if you’re in-between sizes, order the smaller one…” Or a for homewares title, a review that can be used to cross-sell an item: “I was devastated when the Classic Bath Towels were discontinued, but the Royale range makes a fabulous alternative.”

Another tactic is a twist on an old favourite. I flicked through a dozen or so catalogues while writing this blog and found lots that spotlighted their best selling products but none that gave the products a rating—how about, next to one of your best-selling lines, adding a relevant five-star review, or even just a five-star graphic to draw the eye?

Perhaps the most important thing to consider is that by carefully selecting your online reviews for use in your offline material, you’re putting user-generated content firmly back under your control.--MT

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

October Catalogue Log

Last year we received more catalogues in September than we did in October—38 more catalogues in fact. This year the opposite is true. We received two more catalogues in October 2011 than we did the previous month. While that rise may seem insignificant on a month-to-month basis, compared with October 2010, it represents a 13.6 percent increase—167 catalogues versus 147.

October Offers Chart
As things stand, October 2011 has very little in common with the same month in 2010.  For starters, last October was a lot less promotional. A third of catalogues, 33.3 percent, featured a discount or special price promotion on the cover in October 2011, compared with 41.9 percent of catalogues doing so last month. Among those using sales to lure customers was Hotel Chocolat’s Chocolate Tasting Club mailer, which promised a saving of £12 on introductory selections. Gifts marketer Cox & Cox offered to slash its prices by 25 percent, and quirky gifts boutique Bombay Duck hit recipients with a double whammy of 15 percent off and free delivery if they spent more than £30.

Bombay Duck
Speaking of free delivery, I noted a marked difference in the number of catalogues touting free shipping on the cover in 2011 compared with 2010. Last October, we logged a mention of free delivery on almost one in five covers. In 2011, it was featured on just 14.4 percent of covers and often it was teamed up with another deal. Nostalgia-inspired gifts retailer Past Times offered an early-bird discount of 15 percent for orders placed before 15th November, coupled with free p&p when customers spent £40 or more—and free returns. RNLI’s Christmas gifts catalogue asked customers to spend more than £25 to benefit from free delivery, while catering supplies cataloguer BlueU promoted its offer of free delivery to UK mainland addresses as well as promising to beat a competitor’s prices, or £50 back.

Another trend highlighted by the Catalogue Log is that at this time of year, free gifts fall out of favour with cataloguers. In October 2010, 10.2 percent of covers promoted free gifts. In October 2011, a mere 10 out of 167 catalogues did the same, representing just 6 percent of the month’s crop—the lowest percentage we’ve recorded to date. What our data shows is that for the last quarter of the year, free gifts suffer a decline. They pick up again in the first quarter, with January being one of the most popular months for free gifts—too much overstock to shift, perhaps?

Where October 2010 and 2011 are almost identical, however, is that during both months more than half of all the covers we logged made no mention of a special offer at all. Last year—and the year before—we posited that this was because cataloguers buried their special offers within the catalogue or on carrier sheets. I noticed this tactic again in 2011, silk flowers marketer Bloom promoted free delivery on orders of £60 or more on an insert within the polywrapped catalogue; nightwear catalogue Charlotte & Co used a similar move to offer customers 20 percent off, while Lakeland and Inverawe Smokehouses used the covering letter as a place to promote their special money-saving deals. From this I infer that by avoiding splashing a special deal on the cover, cataloguers can mail the same book and test various offers to gauge response. That certainly makes more sense than commissioning expensive reprints.

On a side note, I’ve already earmarked some of October’s catalogues for the annual roundup of our favourite Christmas covers. I’ll be blogging on the best festive covers next month, so please do send your Christmas mailers to our usual office address or email your favourites to miri@catalog-biz.com.--MT

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Coping with the Christmas rush

A study by software and services supplier Postcode Anywhere shows that 25 percent of UK consumers said they plan to buy more Christmas presents online this year than last, with only 5 percent saying they will spend less. The Postcode Anywhere survey also highlights that 6 percent of respondents said this year they plan to start Christmas shopping online for the first time.

This upward trend follows on from Christmas 2010, when figures released by the IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index revealed that Brits spent £6.8 billion online during December—a 25 percent year-on-year increase.

Postcode Anywhere’s sales and marketing director Phil Rothwell says, “With 5 percent set to reduce spend and 25 percent to spend more, all things being equal, retailers could well be looking at a rise of around 20 percent in online sales this Christmas, a similar increase to last year. This is a fairly significant finding, but possibly not a surprising one given the circumstances.”

If you are worried about the expected surge in sales, Postcode Anywhere has the following top tips for a happy clickmas.

• The ecommerce industry needs to capitalise on what promises to be the best Christmas ever for internet shopping. Consumers want bargains. They want to kick out and relax more than ever and they want to do it at the best price. The home of the best price is the internet, plain and simple.

• Retailers will want to ensure they can meet demand over the Christmas period. So stock levels need to be high.

• The website needs to be eminently usable; festive shoppers are fickle creatures!

• Merchants need to provide accurate delivery information to reassure buyers they’ll get their goods in time to wrap them and give them.

• The other side is repeat business. The seasonal splurge is a great chance to introduce your brand to consumers at a time when fantastic service has the potential to forge a lasting relationship. Get too bogged down by a rush of orders and sacrifice on service, and you might manage to get away with making a nice extra profit, but you won’t be managing any long-term relationships.--JD

Related article:
You still have time to prepare for Christmas.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Last chance to vote for your favourite supplier

Direct Commerce magazine is proud to support the ECMOD Supplier of the Year Awards in 2011.

These awards, held annually during the ECMOD Direct Commerce Show on 30th November to 1st December, recognise the hard work and effort suppliers to the direct commerce sector put into securing the success of their clients. This year, cataloguers and online retailers are invited to nominate those suppliers who have gone the extra mile in up to 14 categories, including a new Lifetime Achievement Award.
Voting is free, and to nominate their chosen suppliers, client companies are invited to fill in an online form (http://svy.mk/ny9HNy). Supplier companies are also free to circulate the form to their client base. All entries must be received by 6pm on Friday, 21st October 2011.

The ECMOD Supplier of the Year Awards, in association with Data Driven Business Week and supported by Rising Media, CatEx Direct Commerce Association and Direct Commerce magazine, will be held on Wednesday 30th November at the Business Design Centre in Islington as part of the ECMOD Direct Commerce Show.

This year’s categories are:
BEST 3rd Party Order Fulfilment
BEST Creative & Design Service
BEST Mail Delivery Solution
BEST International Support Service
BEST Home Delivery Service/Solution
BEST Web & Digital Development Services
BEST Print Production Service
BEST Media Planning Service
BEST Technology Solution
NEW Most Effective Website Optimiser
NEW Most Effective Online Campaign Optimiser
NEW Most Effective Use of Predictive Analytics
NEW Most Valuable Contribution to Business Through Data
Lifetime Achievement Award

Friday, 14 October 2011

The Direct Commerce October issue

The October issue landed on desks last week with a special focus on reinventing customer recruitment. Among the topics covered were DRTV, online customer recruitment, plus our affiliate marketing roundup, helping readers choose the right agency and network for their performance-marketing needs.

Subcribers also received a special bonus supplement on payment processing: Sponsored by payment gateway Worldpay, the October supplement features a comprehensive review of the services on offer, as well as tips on accepting international payments and alternative payment options.

Remember, to access these articles you'll need to subscribe to Direct Commerce. A subscription costs as little as £45 a year for online-only access. Click here to find out more.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Grey is the new black

Kudos to apparel catalogue Toast for featuring a model with a mane of grey hair in its Autumn catalogue. According to an article in the Observer in September, Toast is bang on trend. Apparently, women are increasingly seeing “natural grey as chic” and that “there’s a real shift in our perception of grey hair”; so three cheers for Toast for projecting a more natural body image. 

Monday, 3 October 2011

September Catalogue Log

The last few months have seen catalogue volume seesaw. We noted the biggest percentage decline in 2011 to date in July, when volume fell 30 percent year-on-year.  In contrast, the following month (August-on-August) experienced the biggest rise, up 43 percent on the previous year.  Moving into September and another drop; we logged 165 catalogues in September 2011, compared with 185 last year, a decline of almost 11 percent. The decline is even more significant when you consider that two years ago we received 212 catalogues in September.
Offers chart september
Nevertheless, 165 catalogues in one month is a record for 2011. Until now, the highest number was 140, received way back in March. September also broke the 2011 record for lowest number of covers touting special offers.  Last month, more than half of all the catalogues we received featured no mention of a promotion on the cover, including Smyths Toys, Poetry, Presents for Men and Feather & Black.
Of the remaining catalogues that did include an offer, a sale or discount was once again the most popular, promoted on 65 covers (39.4 percent).
Free delivery was promoted on 18.8 percent of covers. Almost the same as percentage as August, but appreciably less than in 2010, when almost a quarter of all catalogues promoted some sort of p&p offer on the cover. Free delivery ranged from unconditional (Muddy Puddles) to a £150 threshold (Marie Chantal). Among the b-to-b mailers, Eureka required customers to spend £250 before qualifying for free p&p.

Continuing the record-breaking theme, last month we received just 11 catalogues (6.7 percent) promising us a free gift with purchase, this is the lowest figure since December 2009.  Among the freebies on offer were chocolates when we spent £40 or more at Wiggly Wigglers, a wooden well with iron pump and as many as 75 free flowers from Spalding and a free reading light from Serious Readers if we spent more than £200 on one order.
Comparing September 09, 10, 11
Also noteworthy is the trend of receiving several catalogues from the same retailer in one month; stand up Crew Clothing, Boden, and Joe Browns. Last month, Joe Browns sent us two 100-page catalogues, one promoted free delivery, the other had no offer on the cover. Crew Clothing mailed us a 220-page catalogue featuring 10 percent off as well as a 76-page mailing, also offering 10 percent off. Crew also sent a 76-page catalogue with an offer for 20 percent off everything. We were inundated with catalogues from Boden last month—we tracked a 68-page insert in Red magazine, offering 15 percent off, free delivery and returns and a free silk scarf. We also received two 244-page Autumn catalogues, one with an offer and one without; two mini Boden catalogues, an 188-page version featuring 15 percent off, free delivery and free returns and a 216-page version with no offer, and a 60-page Johnnie B catalogue targeting those shopping for teenagers.

Back to the stats, here’s one final fact for this issue of the Catalogue Log: we’ve received more catalogues in 2011 to date than we received at this point last year. For the first nine months of the year we logged 964 catalogues, compared with 952 catalogues received between January and September 2010.--MT

Monday, 26 September 2011

Four lessons to learn from mobile email

Although our Direct Commerce Buzz newsletter, covering appointment news, client wins and the latest stats, has only been in existence for a couple of months, in that time we’ve been inundated with research into mobile commerce. From the findings that 87 percent of retailers believe mobile commerce will impact shopping in the next two years, but only 16 percent have a mobile strategy in place, to another study that says 11 percent of smartphone owners now shop online via a mobile device on a weekly basis, to the news that 16 percent of emails are viewed on a mobile.

With that in mind, I decided to carry out my own bit of research. I looked several emails I'd received to see how well they render on an iPhone and what lessons could be learned.

Lesson 1: The alternative view
Homeware and apparel cataloguer Orvis realised its email was best viewed on a webmail or desktop device, rather than on a mobile (see below). To help the smartphone user get the most from the email, Orvis included a link to view a mobile version of the email. Unfortunately, the theory was better than the practice.

When I clicked on the “view mobile version” link within the Orvis email I was presented with a text-based page inviting me to add Orvis to my address book, but there was no mention of the other offers. By all means strip down the email so that it loads more quickly, but don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater (below).

Lesson 2: The landing page

The Holding Company, a marketer of home storage solutions, did much better. The email fit within my iPhone’s screen and was simple to navigate. I had just three choices: “up to 50% off sale”, “interdesign 50% off” and “multibuy savings”. The buttons were big enough that I could click on them without having to magnify the screen. So far so good.

Where The Holding Company let me down was in the landing page. While its email was clutter-free, the same couldn’t be said for the page I was directed to after clicking “multibuy savings”. A lot of pinching and scrolling was involved to see everything on the page. You know the adage, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression”, that’s true for the landing page, so think about it from all angles.

Lesson 3: The fiddly discount code
Entertainment products etailer The Hut did nearly everything right. Although the email was not optimised for mobile, it was still easy to navigate and work out the gist—I haven’t shopped for a while, here’s 10 percent off. The landing page was optimised for mobiles and getting to my desired item was easy.

Armed with my code I was ready to shop. Locating the discount box was stress-free and entering the code would have been easy too, were it not for the fact it is a 14-digit code (12 numbers, 2 dashes). Thank heavens for copy and paste. If possible, think about using more mobile-friendly codes.

Lesson 4: Beware the partial download
If there’s an email in my inbox that doesn’t get read, it’s the email which has only partially downloaded. Take this email from Tesco, for example, it has an enticing subject line: “15% off when you pre-order Harry Potter + £20 off any TomTom sat nav!”, but I’m guessing too many images in this email made my iPhone give up trying to download it all in one go.
When I clicked to download the rest of the message it took nine “flicks” to finally get to the bottom of the email. Perhaps Tesco should consider a “view this on your mobile” option? In any case, if I received this email and I wasn’t connected to Wi-Fi, there’s no way I would spend my 3G allowance on it. You’d have to have a very special bond with a customer to persuade them to spend their money just to open your emails.--MT

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Suppliers overcharging small businesses by £3.6 billion

If you’re an online retail start-up, establishing a good relationship with your suppliers early on is key. A good supplier can often become more like a partner, advising on the services best suited to your needs and helping out when you need it most. You may not have the clout of Amazon or Tesco, but you should still demand a stellar service from all your vendors.

Not all suppliers, it seems, have their clients’ best interests at heart. Small businesses are being overcharged by more than £3.6 billion by “greedy suppliers”, according to a survey produced by b-to-b group-buying website Huddlebuy.co.uk.

The research found that businesses with fewer than 10 staff are paying up to three times more for goods and services than larger companies.

Huddlebuy found that small firms ranging from information and communication firms to construction companies are spending £1,285 more than they need to, with some spending up to £4,000 too much.

Small businesses are paying more than double what they should on a range of everyday services and in some cases are missing out on discounts of 70 percent, according to the study, which also highlighted sole traders, freelancers and consultants are being overcharged £2.17 billion a year, which is an average of £969 each per year.

Businesses in the London and South East best beware, as the study shows they are being overcharged by £1.3 billion a year, with other businesses in the East of England (£390 million) and the North West (£368 million) also being rip-off hotspots.

The Huddlebuy survey says that the professional business services sector is the worst culprit for overcharging small companies (£1.4 billion annually), while the property sector overcharged small companies the least (£120 million annually).

Saurav Chopra, chief executive at Huddlebuy, says, “The results of this research are simply shocking. Small businesses fighting desperately to survive in harsh economic times are being ripped off by greedy suppliers, whilst big businesses enjoy huge savings from their favoured suppliers.”

This doesn’t have to be the case. Direct Commerce is once again proud to support the ECMOD Supplier of the Year Awards. These awards, held annually during the ECMOD Direct Commerce Show (30th November to 1st December), recognise the hard work and effort suppliers to the direct commerce sector put into securing the success of their clients. This year, cataloguers and online retailers are invited to nominate those suppliers who have gone the extra mile in up to 14 categories, including a new Lifetime Achievement Award.

The beauty of these awards is that the winners are chosen by their clients, not by a judging panel far removed from the coalface. Show your support by voting. It's absolutely free to nominate your chosen suppliers; all you need to do is download the official form (http://bit.ly/SOYA11), complete it and return it by Friday, 7th October 2011--JD

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The Best of Direct Commerce--September 2011

This month in Direct Commerce...

The September issue of Direct Commerce lands on desks this week, if you’re a subscriber, here’s what you can expect:

A Focus on M-Commerce—including advice on preparing a mobile strategy, considerations regarding mobile payments and fraud, best-practice ideas for mobile site optimisation, and much more

Because Print Works—introducing our campaign recognising the business-building power of print in today’s direct commerce world, plus a guide to producing your first catalogue.

Website Review—our contributor assesses the website of baby-gifts seller Born Gifted

Q&A With...—we talk to Aaron Chatterley of Feelunique.com about the company’s recent growth and where it’s heading

Plus: the latest industry news, a beginner's guide to catalogue production, tips on how to love your customers, and more.

The only way to read Direct Commerce from cover to cover each month is to subscribe. A one-year subscription also gives you full access to the www.catalog-biz.com website and an archive of past issues. To have the print edition of Direct Commerce magazine delivered to you, or to set up an online-only subscription, visit www.catalog-biz.com/subscribe.asp.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

ECMOD Direct Commerce Conference

Now in its 21st year, the ECMOD Direct Commerce Conference 2011 will feature top US speakers as well as home-grown talent. Taking place at the Business Design Centre in London on 30th November and 1st December, the multitrack conference covers a vast range of topics geared to helping direct sellers from all sectors optimise business performance.

US ecommerce guru Amy Africa returns to ECMOD this year to lead a session titled 40 website must dos on 30th November. While the following day, fellow Americans Dan Lowden of mobile commerce specialist Digby and Direct Commerce contributor and systems expert Ernie Schell will discuss making mobile work for multichannel.

Among the UK speakers, Peter Harris takes to the stage to tell the Hotel Chocolat story and respected UK entrepreneurs including Dwell’s Aamir Ahmad, Worldstores’ Joe Murray, Charles Tyrwhitt founder Nick Wheeler and Scotts & Co chairman Nigel Swabey, among others, will talk business growth in the Gallery Hall—a theatre-style space within the Business Design Centre capable of seating 600 delegates. 

Check out also the Digital Leaders track for the latest on emerging technologies. Sessions include maximising online ROI, led by Matt Curry of Lovehoney and Amberlight’s Jeremy Swinfen Green; Geoffrey Barraclough of BT Expedite, Will Dymott of Lyle & Scott and Mick Rigby of Yodel Mobile on m-commerce and Andrew Copeland of Webgains on behavioural retargeting on performance metrics. And don’t miss Facebook’s session on social commerce.

There’s plenty also on offline techniques, including profit by design, hosted by catalogue design specialists Tony Adams of TA Design and Ian Simpson of Catalogues 4 Business; the secrets of success in TV Shopping led by Mike Hancox of Ideal Shopping Direct, Pete Mills of The Broadcast House and Stuart Paver of shoe retailer Pavers. On back-end processes, Direct Tech’s Joe Palzkill will discuss optimising inventory.

In addition to a new venue, this year’s ECMOD is colocated with Data Driven Business Week’s exhibition and Conversion Conference, eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit, and Predictive Analytics World conferences. A specially designated zone of the ECMOD Direct Commerce exhibition floor will feature Data Driven Business Week sponsors and exhibitors—providing added value to delegates and visitors. The exhibition is, once again, free-to-attend and visitors can preregister by visiting www.ecmod360.co.uk.

When: 30th Nov – 1st Dec 2011
Where: The Business Design Centre, Islington, London
Web: www.ECMOD360.co.uk/conference

August Catalogue Log

This September, Direct Commerce launches its new Because Print Works initiative. The campaign’s aim is to ensure that print catalogues, inserts, press and magazine advertising and customer magazines get the full attention and credit they deserve as vital components in the marketing mix for successful multichannel businesses. Happily, to coincide with the launch, last month’s catalogue volume was the highest it’s been for the month of August since we began writing the Catalogue Log.

Offers promoted on August covers
We received 87 catalogues last month, compared with 61 catalogues in August 2010, and 71 catalogues in August 2009. The reason for this uplift? I’ve noticed that in August cataloguers sent a sale catalogue and a new-season mailing. Lakeland, for example mailed a gardening-themed sale catalogue and its 128-page Autumn book, a similar tactic was employed by The White Company and Museum Selection.
Another strategy was to supplement a mailing with inserts in the national press, something Thompson & Morgan did last month. Or to send catalogues in product despatch. I received the main Nisbets catering equipment catalogue in the post, and then received a sale minicatalogue with my order—a pair of tough kitchen scissors, if you’re wondering.  I also liked Dwell’s strategy to send its main furniture catalogue and complement it with the smaller “Decor” title, showcasing its range of home accessories.

Dwell Decor

Also noteworthy was that even with the additional volume the sale and minicatalogues provided, 40 percent of all catalogue covers in August did not make any mention of a special offer. Compare that with July, when the figure was just 31 percent out of 64 catalogues. Of the catalogues that did promote a deal on their covers, a sale or discount was the most popular promotion. Offered by 39 catalogues, or 44.8 percent, discounts ranged from Argos’s “less than half-price” offers on student essentials to Dell’s “save up to £520 on selected systems”. My favourite offer was a Sunday Times insert from Boden, which offered readers 15 percent off, free delivery and returns and a free wash bag for new customers. Regular Catalogue Log readers will remember Boden did the same this time last year and the year before.


No prizes for guessing that the next most popular special offer was free delivery, now commonly teamed with free returns. Promoted on 18.4 percent of the covers we tracked, free shipping was marginally less popular in August than in July (21.9 percent) and appreciably less than in August 2010 (23 percent).  To curb the costs of offering free delivery, many of the cataloguers arriving in our offices offered it over a certain threshold—apparel catalogue M and M Direct, for example, set a £50 minimum order value, while charity catalogue Traidcraft only required customers to spend £15 to qualify for free delivery. At Prelude, the Scotts & Co/Alexon catalogue, customers could enjoy free shipping if they order before 23rd September, a trick to encouraging an early influx of sales.

In contrast, free gifts were more popular in August than they had been in July. In fact, it was the highest figure we’ve noted since April. The offer was promoted on 14.9 percent of catalogue covers, predominantly by gardening and b-to-b mailers such as Van Meuwen, Spalding, Rajapack, and promotional products catalogue IGO Post, which gave customers the choice of a free gift or a £75 discount. Other catalogues touting a free gift were Cotton Traders (a free roll neck with a jacket), Healthy Living Direct (multifunction pocket tool and “two surprise gifts”) and JML, which offered me a free super slicer worth £9.99, if I spend more than £50.
On a side note, we also received our first Christmas catalogues in August—from Findel’s 24Studio and N Brown’s The Brilliant Gift Shop. Interestingly, both these catalogues offer customers the choice to buy on credit. They mail early presumably to encourage customers to spread the cost over the next four months.  Whether “cash-with-order” catalogues will follow suit with early mailings remains to be seen; as we all know, Christmas is getting later every year…--MT

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Paying a premium

First there was Amazon Prime, then came Asos Premier, now M and M Direct has launched its Premier service, offering customers free express delivery, free returns, priority mailings and exclusive offers.
Amazon Prime, Asos Premier and M and M Direct Premier are membership programmes that charge customers an annual fee for added-value services. Amazon’s service costs £49 a year; Asos currently charges £14.95 and M and M Direct charges £14.99 as an introductory price. But do they represent good deals for the merchant and the consumer?

I looked at joining Amazon Prime, but could not see any immediate benefits as a consumer. Sure, I could get “free one-day delivery on millions of eligible items sold by Amazon.co.uk”, but what about the items sold by third-parties on the site; not all of those are eligible. Not to mention that most items are eligible for Amazon’s free super-saver delivery anyway. I may have to wait up to five days to receive my purchase, but if I wanted it sooner I’d pay the one-off delivery charge. For most items I am happy to wait a few days. Although my family buys a lot on Amazon, I don’t think our shipping costs rack up to £49 a year. Thanks, but no thanks. This offer clearly works out better for Amazon and if people are willing to pay £49 when they could get a very similar service for free, Amazon is definitely the smartest marketer out there.

The Premier offer from apparel etailer Asos is instantly more enticing for consumers. It offers free next-day delivery as well as a returns collection service. I can see the immediate attraction of not having to trudge to the post office to return a parcel. Another benefit, at least for a catalogue nut like me, is that Asos will mail its customer magazine to Premier customers each month. I have bought from Asos a couple of times over the past year or so, but they’ve not sent me a magazine for several months. I was told by a customer services rep that “we send out the magazine every month to a random selection of people who have ordered from us in the last six months. This means that if you keep ordering from us you will receive the Asos magazine,” she directed me to the online version, but it’s just not the same. For £19.95, or even the full price of £24.95, the Asos Premier deal is much better than Amazon’s. As Asos already offers free delivery with no minimum order value, albeit not next-day, I guess the Premier service is a way to reclaim revenue from deliveries. It’s also a great way for Asos to communicate directly with its very best customers. Plenty of online retailers can segment their databases to find out who among their customers buys the most often. But using a service like Premier, Asos knows exactly who its most engaged customers are. To use a much-bandied term, the people who subscribe to a service like Premier are likely “brand advocates”, willing to pay extra for a service from their favourite retailer. Impress these people and they will tell their friends, who may then also join the service, who will tell their friends, and so on.
M and M Direct Premier
M and M Direct’s offer is very similar to Asos. It includes free express shipping, free returns, “priority mailings” and exclusive offers. Already, M and M says 50,000 people have signed up to the programme since March. Again, like Asos, M and M calls out receiving regular catalogues as a key benefit. Its non-offer price is £19.99, cheaper than Asos’s full price. The real added benefit here is that M and M Direct normally charges £6.99 for express delivery and £3.99 for standard delivery compared with Asos and Amazon where customers can opt for free delivery on most items. That means that the service essentially pays for itself after just two orders. For regular shoppers, that’s a very tempting deal.

If I genuinely shopped that often with a retailer, paying for a premium service would definitely appeal. It’s a concept that would work for anything purchased regularly--pet supplies, vitamins and supplements, home-office supplies, childrenswear and baby products, and so much more. If margins permit, we may see many more of this premium services crop up. After all, there’s nothing customers love more than being treated like VIPs.--MT

Thursday, 25 August 2011

You'd better smile

Readers of a certain age would remember a song called Smile by the Supernaturals. The word smile is repeated 15 times during the chorus. I was reminded of that tune when I saw this spread from a recent Bravissimo catalogue. Now, we’re told smiles sell, but I think Bravissimo could tone it down a little…--MT

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

July Catalogue Log

In July 2009 we received 149 catalogues. In July 2010 we received 91 catalogues. Last month we tallied just 64 catalogues—a decline of 30 percent on last year and 57 percent down on two years ago.
Up until now, catalogue volume had been mostly in line with 2010, but July’s crop took a nosedive. A quick look at the data shows we’ve slipped off a number of lists including apparel retailers MandM Direct, Cashmere Centre and Peter Hahn. On the other hand, this year we’ve received mailings from clothing catalogue Peruvian Connection, childrenswear boutique Marie Chantal, and personalised apparel specialist Spreadshirt—so plenty of new names to top up our catalogue stocks.
So what’s the reason for the decline? It could be that, as we’ve suspected before, we’re dropping off more lists than we are added to. No-one wants to waste money regularly mailing a prospect that hasn’t bought in longer than 24 months. Another reason, mentioned by our publisher Jane Revell-Higgins recently, was that there seem to be fewer inserts in national media. We noted only a minor difference of five catalogues, but it is nonetheless, a decline.

Another potential reason is that we are at the height of the summer sale season. Perhaps a tighter control on margins means fewer markdowns and less stock to shift in the sales? You tell me.

But back to the stats. Of the 64 catalogues we logged, just 20, or 31.3 percent, made no mention of a special offer on the cover. That makes July our most promotional month to date, beating February’s record of 32.7 percent. The most popular promotion was a sale or discount, touted on 54.7 percent of all the covers we looked at. Fashion brand Fat Face, apparel and home retailer Laura Ashley and homewares catalogue Peacock Blue all sought to tempt us with money off our order.

Free delivery was the second most popular promotion, offered by 21.9 percent of the catalogues we tracked. Again, this was one of the highest percentages we tracked—significantly higher than June 2011’s 12.3 percent, and just a whisper away from February’s 22.1 percent. Many catalogues elected to set a threshold for a free delivery offer, including charity mailer RNLI, which required customers to spend £25 before qualifying, and educational toys cataloguer the Happy Puzzle Company, which made free shipping available to those who spend £40 or more.

Also more popular, albeit marginally, was a free gift with purchase. It was promoted on 10.9 percent of catalogue covers in July, compared with 9.8 percent in June. My favourite was an offer from Laithwaites Wines, which teamed with Pong Cheese to offer buyers of its Italian wines a selection of free Italian cheeses.  I was also quite taken with apparel cataloguer Long Tall Sally, which mailed me a £20 gift voucher to put towards whatever I liked—no minimum spend, no strings attached. That was definitely an offer too good to miss for the consumer, but it makes me wonder how Long Tall Sally can afford to give every name on its database £20 for free.--MT

Cover story

What would you say are the most important messages to convey on a catalogue’s front cover? Essential, in my opinion, are brief how-to-order details such as a telephone number and website URL.

Most catalogues then opt for including some sort of special offer or benefit, for example “100 new products!” or “Free delivery when you spend more than £50”.

Furniture retailer Furniture Village does all that—a prominent web address and a flash in the top-right corner informing customers they can save up to 50 percent in the Furniture Village sale. But here’s something I’ve not seen on a catalogue cover before: “all stores fully air-conditioned”.

Is this an important selling point? Does it imply that other furniture stores are uncomfortably stuffy? Would the lure of climate control sway a catalogue recipient who perhaps ultimately orders online?

It has been a while since I needed to buy a sofa, but I don’t recall air-conditioning helping me make a buying decision. It seems an odd choice for a cover line, but maybe Furniture Villages knows something we don’t and we’ll finally get the barbecue summer we’ve been promised.--MT

Monday, 11 July 2011

Cross-Atlantic's top 7 of 2011

Cross-Atlantic Insight is our enewsletter delivering international news direct to your inbox every fortnight. If you’re trading in overseas markets, or you simply want to stay abreast of what UK, European, and American direct marketers are doing beyond their own borders, you need to be on the list. Click here to sign up to receive the free enewsletter.

Curious to know what you've missed in the year to date? Catch up here with our seven biggest stories of 2011 so far, as measured by click-throughs
  1. Targeting the Nordics—with a mature ecommerce market, efficient postal system, and a good availability of prospecting data, Scandinavia presents an attractive opportunity, but there are several other points to consider too
  2. Compare and contrast Best Buy—analysing the differences between Best Buy's US website and its UK counterpart
  3. Compare and contrast Clarks—Clarks' overseas business is said to be booming with sales up 19 percent in the USA. So just what makes it so popular with American consumers?
  4. European online sales overtake the US—European online retail sales now exceed those in the US, according to a new report
  5. EU parliament adopts amended consumer rights rules—members of the European parliament (MEPs), the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection and the Council of the European Union agree amendments to the EU Consumer Rights Directive.
  6. Catalogues drive international sales for Next—Next doubles international sales and plans for more growth
  7. International study indicates huge potential for mobile retail—a report on mobile shopping shows that UK consumers are willing to shop by mobile and closing the gap on their US cousins--MT

Friday, 8 July 2011

Mid-year catch-up--best of Insight so far

We’ve passed the midpoint of 2011, so what better time to reflect and take a look at what’s been most popular with our readers to date.

Delivering strategic and tactical advice to subscribers of the CataloguesCatalogues enewsletter every week, here are the top seven Insight stories of 2011, as measured by click-throughs.

1. Seven easy tips for creating better catalogues -- there’s a science and an art to creating hardworking catalogues, so here are seven tips to help you succeed.

2. Seven email marketing trends for 2011 -- what should your email marketing strategy look like in 2011? Some trends to watch.

3. The year in review -- a roundup of the biggest stories of 2010

4. May Catalogue Log -- of the 91 catalogues we received in May, just 34 made no mention of a special offer on the cover.

5. A practical guide to marketing your website -- originally published in 2010, this article on planning online marketing activity is still popular in 2011.

6. Seven rules to follow when using social media for lead generation -- today’s consumers—and by extension, corporate customers—are ignoring traditional marketing channels. However, one marketing channel continues to open up new avenues for business-to-business companies—social.

7. Three tactics to make the most of email in 2011 -- top tips to help you make the most of email in 2011.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

June Catalogue Log

Talk about extremes. The June Catalogue Log recorded the highest ever percentage of catalogues offering a sale or discount on the cover, while also logging one of the lowest numbers of covers promising free delivery.

Offers promoted on catalogue covers in June

The summer sales started in earnest in June. Out of 81 catalogues received last month, 59.3 percent, or 48 catalogues, offered a sale or discount on the front cover. Further, only 29 catalogues had no offer on the cover at all—and of those, at least two had a special offer flyer inserted, or promoted a deal on the back cover. Clearly, cataloguers are being more aggressive in their promotional mail in order to boost revenues and shift stock in time for autumn.  But, this tactic comes at a price; at multititle group N Brown, which operates Simply Be, Jacamo, The Shoe Tailor and Marisota, for example, margin in the 18 weeks ended 2nd July declined by 0.2 percent due to discounting. Indeed, of 11 N Brown catalogues and inserts we’ve logged in just the past two months, all had promotional cover lines.
Up until now, July 2010 had been the most sales-dominated month, with 49.5 percent of covers promoting a discount--significantly lower than 2011’s 59.3 percent. For June 2010, 40 percent of covers featured a sale. The year before, discounting was even less popular, with only 34.1 percent of covers promising special prices in June. Does this signal that the sale season is starting earlier every year? Seems so; Marks & Spencer reportedly brought forward its sale by a fortnight this year, fuelling speculation that it was doing it to avoid losing business to other retailers, who were already discounting.

Wiggly Wigglers
Evidently though, one offer is enough for June’s cataloguers. In a distant second place, the next most popular offer was free delivery, offered by a mere 10 catalogues, or 12.3 percent. This is broadly in line with last year (14.7 percent) and more than June 2009 (8.5 percent). I can only assume that as margins are taking such a hit due to slashed prices, retailers cannot afford to send the goods for free too. Of the catalogues that did offer free shipping, most did so conditionally, for example, free delivery for orders of £100 or more at audio-visual cabling cataloguer Russ Andrews, or free p&p when you shop online at Simply Supplements. Among the more generous offers we noted was a Wiggly Wigglers insert with our order from childrenswear brand Frugi—it featured a 15 percent discount and free delivery to encourage me to place my first order there.
The third most popular offer in June was a free gift with purchase, promoted by 9.8 percent of catalogue covers. This is lower than last year’s 12.8 percent, and significantly lower than June 2009 when we logged 17.8 percent of covers offering a freebie as a thank-you for buying in June.

Our first Catalogue Log blog post was published in June 2009, since then we've learned that:
  • To date, 2011 has had the highest percentage of catalogues promoting a sale or discount, with an average of 46.1 percent of catalogues doing so every month.
  • Free delivery was most popular in 2010, offered on average by 1 in 5 catalogues per month.
  • Offering a free gift with purchase is normally a staple promotion on b-to-b catalogue covers. So far in 2011, an average 13.8 percent of catalogues a month feature a freebie on their front cover.
  • Free shipping is not a popular offer in June.
  • The most promotional month to date, offering a combination of sales, free p&p or free gifts, was February 2011, when more than two-thirds of catalogues featured some sort of special offer on the cover.
  • We received an average of 125 catalogues a month in 2009 and 111 catalogues a month in 2010.
  • In the first six months of 2011 we logged a monthly average of 108 catalogues.
  • Overall, in terms of volume, we tracked 81 catalogues in June 2010, that’s 8 percent more than last year (75 catalogues), but 42 percent less than June 2009 (140 catalogues).--MT

Thursday, 16 June 2011

On online shopping and the art of persuasion

On Monday, Kevin Hillstrom, the president of Mine That Data and a regular speaker at the ECMOD conference, wrote a blog about multichannel attribution. (You can read it here.) He described how he had decided to buy a new TV from Crutchfield, a US-based retailer of consumer electronics products. In just one month, Hillstrom received a catalogue, abandoned basket notification, free gift offer, a lower price, and an email featuring the selected TV, alongside a free shipping offer. He asked readers to deconstruct that information and explain which marketing activity caused the order, bearing in mind that he had already made up his mind to buy from Crutchfield.

Now, I don’t want to wade into the argument. In fact, what interests me most about this experience is just how hard Crutchfield worked to get the sale. With more than a hint of disappointment I can safely say no retailer has ever courted me like that. The closest I have come is a “Thank you for your interest” email from John Lewis and a couple of “we miss you” emails every now and then. As for abandoned-basket emails, the last one I saw was one my boss forwarded me from hair and beauty care brand Aveda.


To show the contrast between Crutchfield’s tenacious approach to get Kevin to buy the TV, and the more laid-back sales tactics I am accustomed to, here’s my recent experience shopping for shoes. I was looking to buy a pair of Converse Ox trainers and started out using Google’s shopping search.  My buying decision was based on price: Who could give me the best deal on Converse Ox trainers. After trying the usual shoe suspects, I ended up on eBay’s fashion outlet. I clicked “watch” on a pair of trainers so that I could save my choice and continue browsing.  You’re probably expecting me to say that a pair of trainers followed me around the internet as I continued searching. However, because a lot of my browsing was done on a smartphone I didn’t see any of the now ubiquitous retargeting ads.

A couple of days later I noticed the price of my watched item had been reduced by 15 percent, and still had free delivery. Was that intentional or a coincidence? Could the seller, knowing he had only four pairs in that size in stock, used the tactic to tempt the “watchers” he had? Or was it that with only four pairs in stock, he wanted to shift them faster? Or, was it always the plan to reduce the items a certain number of days before the “buy it now” auction ended? Whatever the reason, I took the bait and bought the shoes.
Now get this—six days after I bought the shoes I received an email from eBay: “Miri Thomas, recommended just for you”. Remember, eBay knows I bought the shoes. So why on earth did it send me a selection of Converse trainers? As Kevin Hillstrom would say, “Oh boy…”

eBay's idea of what I'd like. Not in my size though.

Faring slightly better in trying to woo me was Dell. But only slightly. In March, we bought a new PC. In June, we received a mailing from Dell with 10 percent off related accessories—a nice touch. However, if we were in the market for accessories we would have bought them in the first couple of months of buying the computer—and we did. We got a new printer and a new mouse in April from another online retailer. Dell missed the boat.

Crutchfield wanted the sale and it worked for it. The eBay merchant was on the ball, but the online marketplace got its emails wrong. And as for Dell, I give it top marks for the idea, but it was let down by poor timing.

For the marketer, Crutchfield’s sales technique is, as Hillstrom puts it, an “attribution nightmare”. But as a consumer, Crutchfield’s approach is seductive. Hands up: who among you would rather receive an email showing you the shoes you could have bought, or the PC accessories you already have over a free gift to go with the shiny new TV you have put in your basket but haven’t purchased yet?

Thought so.--MT

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Idea to steal: managing unsubscribes

I accidentally unsubscribed from Argos’s email list earlier this week. Luckily though, the retailer was on the case to rectify that error. With the subject line “Are you sure?”, Argos’s email immediately caught my attention in a crowded inbox. It continued: “We are sorry to see you have recently chosen not to hear from us. Argos emails are a great way to be the first to know about our best deals, exclusive competitions and much, much more. If you have changed your mind or didn’t mean to unsubscribe, please let us know by clicking here.” This simple, no-fuss email ensured that I quickly added myself back to the list.
Do you know how many of your email recipients have inadvertently unsubscribed? An email like this is a neat way to win them back. What have you got to lose?--MT

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Catalogues we love: Garden Bird Supplies

First, an admission: I am not green-thumbed at all. My idea of gardening is getting the weedkiller out once in a while. But I live in the countryside and appreciate just how lucky I am to wake up to the sound of chirping birds and clean air. This is why I love the Garden Bird Supplies “Garden Bird Feeding Guide”: comprehensive enough for devoted twitchers and inclusive enough so that novices can make informed decisions on how to attract wild birds to their gardens.

The Garden Bird Feeding Guide

What I like about it:

•    Educational
The “how to help” article on pages 8 through 9 guides readers through seven steps to creating a habitat for wild birds. With tips like keeping your bird-feeders topped up during the spring and “don’t over-tidy your garden, and leave plenty of scrappy material [for birds to construct their nests]”, the tips are logical and easy to follow. There’s also an incredibly handy chart to the “20 Popular Garden Birds” to help wannabe birdwatchers identify local wildlife and feed them accordingly. 

•    Engaging
Garden Bird Supplies lets its customers get involved with the catalogue, not only through a “News from readers” section, featuring customer letters and photographs, but also by using customer photographs throughout the book—usually at the top-left corner of each spread. The copy is also very friendly and helpful. Each section has an introductory paragraph outlining the benefits of those particular products. For example, this introducing a range of cleaning products:

“Birds are at risk from disease if we do not keep our feeding stations clean and hygienic. In this section you will find a complete range of cleaning products which will create a healthy environment for your garden birds. We also have a selection of deterrents to help keep your birds safe from predators.”

Then, for each individual product, there’s even more information and features like “squirrel resistant” and “easy to clean and comes apart in one simple motion”. It helps even the most clueless of gardeners choose the right food and the best way to present it.

I also like the eye-catching callouts beside some of products, like “popular with robins and softbills” and “feed from a table or on the ground”.
The treat cakes page
•    The photography
My favourite photo is on page 9 (below), showing a mistle thrush pulling a worm out of the ground. You can really see the effort on the little bird’s face.  The product photography is also well done too, especially the photos showing the birds enjoying the food.
A determined mistle thrush on page 9
•    Easy to shop from
A cardinal sin in any catalogue is making it difficult for the customer to locate important information, such as product details or delivery charge. Garden Bird Supplies sidesteps this with front and back covers that do a good job of highlighting the core message. The covers promote 15 percent off a selected line, free delivery, and the company’s “buy in bulk, save money” maxim with page references as to where more information can be found.  On the opening spread, Garden Bird Supplies reiterates the offer code and gives a nod to the website, where customers can join a forum or subscribe to the enewsletter. It also includes a table of contents on page 3 of the 64-page catalogue to help customers navigate the book.

Garden Bird Supplies knows it’s not the cheapest on the market, so to persuade customers to spend that little bit extra it relies on its wildlife expertise and in-depth knowledge of wild birds and their habitats. The result is a friendly, informative and engaging catalogue that holds appeal for gardeners of all skill levels.--MT

Monday, 6 June 2011

Compare and contrast--Clarks

In the US, Clarks shoes are available to buy through Clarks’ stores, concessions and online. It must be doing something right as according to published reports, pretax profits at the Somerset-based shoe retailer grew by 28 percent to £109 million ($178 million) in 2010, with revenues up 9.2 percent to £1.28 billion ($2.10 billion). The growth is said to be driven by Clarks’ overseas business, particularly North America, where sales increased 19 percent, compared with just 1 percent in the UK and Ireland. So what makes it so successful stateside?

The home pages
A trend I’ve noticed writing compare and contrast blog posts is that the home pages of the US websites we’ve looked at tend to be less crowded than UK home pages—the rule applies here too. The UK Clarks home page (below) has one large central image featuring eight pairs of shoes. To the right of the image are more graphics—promoting £15 off selected lines, highlighting Clarks’ boutique range, announcing a saving of £25 on selected men’s ranges, and two smaller boxes calling out kids’ canvas-style shoes.

The UK Clarks home page

Below the main image are three graphics that click through to men’s, women’s and children’s styles. Below those is one more banner announcing Clarks as an official partner of Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life event. And there’s even more—at the very bottom of the page are text links to the various departments and help pages. Contrast this with the US home page (below). It features a large central image of two people standing on a boat, the UK site features only shoes and feet on the home page. Below the main image is a banner for flip-flops, and below that are text links—but far fewer than on the UK site.

Clarks USA home page

Do British consumers prefer a busier home page? I’d imagine plenty of A/B testing takes place to get this crucial space right, so I can only assume that we do. A sparser page may look tidier, but the British home page provides more to click on, aiding navigation and encouraging users to take particular paths through the site.

Out of curiosity, I took a look at Clarks’ French and German websites too. The German home page was very similar to the UK home, with an almost identical layout and imagery. The French site also bore more of a similarity to the British home page, than the US one, though the main image differed slightly in layout. In total Clarks has 28 websites, including local-language sites for China, Greece and Russia, each slightly different from the other.

But coming back to the USA and UK websites, both feature some sort of delivery offer on the home page. The UK website promotes free delivery and free returns, while the US site promises “flat fee shipping & free returns”. Each provides a link to a delivery details page. Here the UK site trumps its US sister; the copy is broken up into coloured boxes with each option clearly spelled out, from free delivery to Saturday delivery to a collect-in-store service. The US site looks more formal, in plain black text with a delivery options table. It is very thorough though and states plainly what Clarks can and can’t do when it comes to delivery.
A final point about the home page, visitors to the US Clarks site can also shop the “Bostonian”, a brand of men’s shoes, via a tab on the home page. No such tab exists on the UK site. In fact, type Bostonian into the site search on the British site and you’ll reach a “no results” page.

Let’s go shopping
Moving further into the site, there are several ways a potential customer can find product. Visitors can use the site search function, click on the main image, select a department from the top navigation bar, use a drop-down menu from the main nav bar, or, in the case of the British site, choose one of the boxes on the right.

Choosing from the drop-down menu, there were many more options on the UK site. The women’s menu, for example, has 32 links. Visitors can choose from 16 product types—such as sandals, clogs, handbags—and from 16 “features”—including teens, sports, nautical styles. In contrast, the US women’s menu has only eight links.

I clicked on Sandals and was taken to two very different pages. On the UK site, I was shown 25 styles by default, but I could choose to have up to 100 products displayed and sort them by price ascending, price descending, and alphabetically, but not by brand. The left-hand nav bar allowed me to refine my search further, by size, colour and price, for example. The US site uses a horizontal bar for refinement options as well as a left-hand nav bar to shop by collection or brand, or select a different type of shoe.

UK product page

I had a good look around the site, but didn’t find two styles the same in order to compare the product pages, so I chose to compare two items of the same brand. Both websites carry the charity-supporting Soul of Africa collection. And both sites allow the visitor to “quick view” an item selected without navigating away from the page. A handy touch if the shopper wants to compare different styles without clicking back and forward too often.  Moving to the actual product page, the US site has a much bigger image of the product, with a very good zoom function. The zoom on the UK site takes longer to load, but seems to get closer to the product. Both sites also have cross-selling features and social-media bookmarking links, but unlike many of its shoe-selling competitors, there are no user reviews on the US site.

US product page

I added the item to my basket and headed for the checkout. Here, again, the British site introduced more colour to guide the user through the process. There was also a big banner informing me that Clarks now accepts Paypal, allaying any security fears I may have about entering my credit-card details. The US website was more function, less colour, but allowed me to checkout as a guest. The UK site required me to enter my email address at checkout so that it could confirm my order. Both sites get top marks for including a clear breadcrumb trail of how far I’d come along the checkout process and how many more steps remained.

All in all, the Clarks websites are very robust and user-friendly. There are obvious differences between the UK and US sites, but that does not necessarily make one better than the other. I do question Clarks’ decision not to include product reviews on the American site, though.  The Clarks USA website is a million miles away from American sites Zappos or eBags, with their busy home pages and feature-packed product pages. But perhaps that’s the whole point and the secret of its appeal.--MT

Thursday, 2 June 2011

What we learned from 58 bank holiday weekend emails

If, like me, you spent the bank holiday weekend fighting off a nasty bout of flu, you will have had time to read your emails instead of having fun and enjoying the, erm, “Great British Summer”. You will have also noticed several marketers using the bank holiday as a hook for their special offers last week. Like any event or special date in the calendar, the bank holiday weekend makes for excellent email fodder, so in my paracetamol-induced haze I had the idea of saving all my emails for analysis.

I took a random sample of 58 emails I received between Friday, 27th May and Monday, 30th May. Of the 58 emails I tallied, at least four merchants sent me more than one email during the course of the long weekend. So what did they have to tell me that was so important they needed to contact me twice? Pet Supermarket sent me a food-storage themed email on Sunday with no mention of the bank holiday. The following day it emailed to let me know that I had just 48 hours to get 10 percent off my order. The subject line worked to instil a sense of urgency, but I was much less excited when I learned I needed to spend £79 to qualify for the discount.

Another retailer, equestrian supplies specialist Derby House, emailed me on Friday announcing “75% OFF Bank Holiday Outlet Clearance*”. Asterisks in subject lines are never a good thing and should be avoided in my opinion. I looked up the footnote, which referred to 183 words of terms and conditions. Sure, they needed to be there, but perhaps the subject line wasn’t the ideal place to point them out. On Monday, the email from Derby House was titled “Hurry, these offers end midnight tomorrow!”—thankfully no asterisk this time.

Something for the weekend
Although Derby House mentioned the bank holiday in the subject line of one of its emails, it was in the minority of merchants that did so. Unexpectedly, more than four out of five emails (81 percent) did not include a reference to the bank holiday in the subject line. Those that did included apparel cataloguer Tulchan: “Bank Holiday Bonanza from Tulchan” and homewares cataloguer/retailer Cologne & Cotton: “A Great Bank Holiday Offer From Cologne and Cotton”. I was also impressed by Cologne & Cotton’s efforts to link email with its other channels. It featured a printable coupon that customers can use in-store to redeem 15 percent off selected lines.
Cologne & Cotton
Eight of the 58 emails, or 14 percent, did not mention the bank holiday in the subject line but did include it in the body of the email. Hush and Frugi definitely missed a trick here. Let’s start with apparel retailer Hush’s subject line: “Miri - The Grocer's Son, last chance to win Lazy Linen bundles from The Sleep Room, harem trousers update etc”. Okay, it gets a thumbs up for its attempt at personalisation, but “etc”? And where’s Hush’s product in this email, third in line with a “harem trousers update”—not even a special offer, but a stock update. I know Hush is known for its soft-sell approach, but burying a free delivery promotion at the bottom of the email just doesn’t make sense to me. Especially considering customers have to spend £75 to qualify for the offer.

Childrenswear brand Frugi sent an email titled “Something special to celebrate our 7th birthday”. The email then went on to offer free delivery and a 3-for-2 deal, as well as a Facebook competition to win a “Frugi birthday present”. I can’t help but think that open rates would have improved if Frugi had simply added “Free UK delivery” or “Win Frugi goodies” to the subject line.
Speaking of Facebook, my sample showed that 78 percent of emails featured some sort of social-bookmarking link. When we ran a similar study in 2009, only 17 percent included a link to the company’s Facebook page, Twitter feed, or other third-party social-media site. While this is a huge improvement, there’s still more to be done. One in every five emails is missing out on the opportunity social networking presents to get closer to its audience.

Another missed opportunity is personalisation, with 90 percent of the merchants in my sample failing to personalise any element of the email. Just six emails featured any sort of personalisation: Hush, Yours Clothing and Chemist Direct opted for including my name in the subject line. Gifts marketer Cox & Cox and apparel etailer Curvissa chose to address me by name in the body of the email. Fashion retailer New Look’s personalisation was evident in the preheader text: “Miri, if you can't view our e-mail, click here”.
My favourite use of preheader text came courtesy of cosmetics marketer Feelunique. The preheader, also known “snippet text” appears in the inbox of some email clients along with the subject line. Often only used to remind readers they can view the email in their web browsers, preheaders have the potential to work much harder for the brand, something Feelunique clearly appreciates. Here’s how it maximised the chances of having its email opened: “It’s last of the long weekends & we’re giving you just the ticket to satisfy your beauty needs all weekend. Get a whopping £5 off any order when you spend only £45 or more – get summer sorted!” That’s everything a reader would need to help make the decision of whether to open the email or not. So much more effective than saying “Not displaying correctly, click here to view it in your browser”, don’t you agree?

The big deal
If 80 percent of emails were not promoting a bank holiday-related offer, they had to be promoting something else, right? Forty-five percent of subject lines made mention of a price-related offer, for example “25% off all clothing including online exclusives” at Tesco, and “This week’s top offers - up to 50% off!” at Debenhams. Twelve percent of emails chose to promote free delivery, or in apparel retailer Wallis’s case, a lower delivery charge of £1. A scant 5 percent offered a free gift, including cosmetics brand Clinique and mail order butcher Donald Russell: “New Butchers Specials - Get FREE burgers with orders over £80!”.

And finally, here’s one for the “Huh?” file. Toys and games etailer Smyths sent me an email tiled “Save €'s..Get Top Rated Games For Less”. The Galway-based retailer sent me its euro-priced email instead of the sterling email. Smyths needs to be more stringent with its segmentation. It knows I live in the UK—it even sent me a catalogue at Christmas—so why am I on the list for an Eire-only promotion?--MT
Smyths Toys