Thursday, 27 January 2011

Catalogue review: H&M

When fashion retailer H&M launched its transactional website back in September 2010, it was met with a negative reaction from many in the ecommerce fraternity. Bloggers were quick to admonish it for poor SEO, horrible navigation, and its error-prone online forms. So when the debut H&M print catalogue landed on my doormat this month—followed by another catalogue two weeks later—I endeavoured to share my thoughts about its efforts on paper. And I am happy to report, I was pleasantly surprised.

First impressions
The Spring Season 2011 catalogue is a 308-page, perfect-bound book; slightly wider but shorter than A4 in size. The paper stock for the cover is a thin silk card, while the pages within the catalogue are thin paper. A paragraph on page 302 confirms that the paper used was awarded the EU Ecolabel accreditation, which shows H&M has an eye on environmental concerns.

The image on the front cover is of a blonde model with rather striking green eyes. The H&M logo is prominent at the top left of the page, whilst the orderline and web URL is at the bottom. I would have liked to see more product on the front cover, something that the identically titled follow-up catalogue (below) did do. The 36-page catalogue that arrived in the last week of January features a shot of a model wearing a pink dress on its cover. I’m fairly certain that everyone receiving an H&M catalogue will be familiar with the product range, but it’s great to see some of it on the front page. The blonde model could easily have been selling hair care or beauty products. While we’re on the topic of the 36-page catalogue, I feel it should have been given a different title—“spring season selections” perhaps? Surely a different edition name should also help on the content-management side of things. (Oh, and is it just me, or do you see something wrong with that photo, seems like contender for the Photoshop Disasters blog)

I would have liked to see a call to action on the cover or even a tag line. Looking through the catalogue, there are no “new customer” discounts, or save “15% if you order before”, there are no free shipping offers either. Clearly H&M believes its low prices already speak for themselves.

H&M gets a big tick for featuring a letter from its head designer on page 3. Ann-Sofie Johansson provides some useful tips on this season’s style, as well as calling out H&M’s green credentials—she points out that by 2020 all the cotton used by H&M will be from recycled sources. The next two pages are dedicated to a table of contents. The list is easy to follow and logical. Another big tick for H&M.

Moving inside
This may not sound like me, but there wasn’t much to criticise looking at H&M’s product spreads. Most spreads include photos of the models wearing the garments and smaller product shots showing the different colourways or matching accessories. There are also “get the look” stopper pages with guides on putting together complete outfits, as well as accessories-only pages. Each spread seems to have at least six different items on display, but the pages never look crammed or crowded. Each garment is labelled with a letter correspoding to the product copy, making finding information about a particular item a stress-free task. The photography and models are faultless too—plenty of smiling faces and interesting poses.

Overall, I felt the catalogue has more in common with a La Redoute or Blue Tomato catalogue than it does with Very or Next; there’s a definite European edge to the catalogue design that makes it stand out from its UK competitors. Even just little things, like the way the price is displayed (without a £ sign; one instance of it written 14,99 instead of 14.99).

H&M’s European heritage is also evident in the order form and the payment methods accepted. As well as by credit or debit card, H&M allows customers to pay by monthly instalments, a monthly invoice or via a “payment slip in parcel”, a method whereby the shopper receives the item and pays an invoice delivered with the parcel within 10 days or receipt, a practice that is much more common on the Continent than it is in the UK.

The copy varies from the fairly descriptive: “Trousers that are loose-fitting at the top with tapered legs and side pockets. Back pockets with a button. Crotch height from 9.5” / 24.5 cm, and inside leg 32.25” / 82 cm in size 14. 98% cotton 2% elastane”—“Trousers”, page 107. To the functional: “T-shirt with a print on the front. Length 29”/ 74 cm in size L. 100% cotton”—“T-shirt”, page 193. Mostly, I think the length of copy is fine, as the images are clear and most product questions are answered by seeing the product on the model. One minor gripe about the copy though, it’s in 6pt type and rather faint. For future editions, it would definitely be an improvement if the type was made just slightly larger.

The catalogue easily stands up to repeated browsing. The customer can have a quick flick to a specific section, or spend hours poring over the pages making a mental note of all the outfits she’d like to buy. H&M may be new to the UK catalogue scene, but as its debut edition proves, it’s spent time and money on getting it right.--MT

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Idea to steal--the holding page

So you’ve worked hard to develop a range extension, you’ve added a childrenswear line, or a premium line, or you’ve diversified into new products altogether. You’ve secured a URL and have a holding page with a sign-up form to gather data on your new prospective customers, but how do you make it more appealing?

I like this example from luxury-apparel Net-a-Porter. It is supporting the imminent launch of its new menswear business with a call for “founding members”—a much classier alternative to the “sign up now” form.

The holding page explains the benefits of becoming a “founding member” of Mr Porter, such as exclusive access to the site before it launches to the public, as well as access to personal shoppers and seasonal previews ahead of everyone else. This exclusivity is entirely in keeping with Net-a-Porter’s luxury brand values—conveying the feeling that this is not for everyone, this is for “you”. Places for founding members are, according to the site, limited, further encouraging visitors to sign up and stay ahead of the curve.

What’s great about this idea is its simplicity—it’s just a data collection form after all. Even better is that Net-a-Porter is collecting two names with one form—those wishing to become founder members must provide a friend’s name and email address for the privilege. Are places really limited? I doubt it, I become a founding member with minimum fuss, which makes me question the authenticity of that statement. Still, the perceived luxury and the idea of getting VIP treatment appeals to all of us, I’m sure.

Next time you’re putting up a holding page ahead of a site revamp or a new launch, think about the message it sends your customers and prospective customers. What are they getting for giving you their valuable contact details? How are you making their experience special? Why should they take notice of your new brand? “Sign up now” just doesn’t seem to cut it anymore, does it?--MT

Thursday, 6 January 2011

December Catalogue Log

Despite the snow, which disrupted mail services across the UK in the run-up to Christmas, we still received more catalogues in December 2010 than we did in December 2009. But before you get excited and herald this as a triumph over the elements, we only received four more catalogues—66 compared with 62.

The figure also represents a considerable drop from the volume of catalogues we logged in November 2010, when we received 167 catalogues. Another significant contrast is that December’s crop of catalogues was much more promotional than the previous month, with 62.1 percent of front covers making a mention of a special offer, compared with less than half of the November covers doing so.

No prizes for guessing what the most popular offer was in December. Once again, sales and discounts featured most prominently, on the cover of 29 out of 66 catalogues. Many cataloguers, it seemed, did not want to wait until January to start their sales: step forward Charles Tyrwhitt, Craghoppers, and JoJo Maman Bebe.

The percentage of catalogues offering free delivery in December was up marginally on November--21.2 percent, compared with 18 percent. The percentage of catalogues promoting a free gift on the cover fell from 8.4 percent to 6.1 percent, or just four catalogues out of 66.

And finally for December’s haul of catalogues, you may wonder what discount apparel retailer M and M Direct, audio/visual cabling supplier Russ Andrews, and plants catalogue Thompson & Morgan have in common. These three catalogues were the only ones we received that made a promotional opportunity of the VAT rise. Thompson & Morgan pledged to hold 2010’s prices, while Russ Andrews promised to keep VAT at 17.5 during the sale period. M and M promised no increase until 12th January. Whether we’ll see more of these promotions in January is debatable--already our tracker has logged some catalogues doing so. Though with two of the examples holding prices for just a couple weeks and leading retailer Next openly admitting it is increasing its prices by approximately 8 percent this year, it won’t be a popular promotion for long.--MT

The Catalogue Log by the numbers

To be in mail order, you’ve got to love data, so here’s a roundup of Catalogue Log stats from 2010 just for you:

  • In total Catalogue e-business logged in 1332 catalogues in 2010. That’s 144 fewer than we received in 2009, representing a 10 percent drop.
  • Once again September was the month with the greatest volume, when a total of 185 catalogues were tallied. In April we received just 61 catalogues.
  • In August, just 34.4 percent of the catalogues we received made no mention of a special offer on the cover. The least promotional month was November, when more than half of covers featured no special offers.
  • July saw the highest percentage of catalogues promoting a sale or discount on their covers, 49.5 percent. In contrast, November touted the fewest price-related offers, just 27.5 percent.
  • Free delivery was most popular in September, promoted on 24.3 percent of all covers. It was least popular in July, with only 12.1 percent of catalogues offering some sort of free p&p offer.
  • We also tracked how many catalogues offered a free gift. The promotion was particularly popular in May, when 1 in 5 of the catalogues we logged in promised a freebie on the front cover. Free gifts were least popular during the festive season—only 6.1 percent of the catalogues we received in December gave away a gift with purchase.