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