Monday, 28 February 2011

Valentine's emails we love

“You Can Hurry Love - Order by 5pm Friday 
to Spoil Someone Special!”

Why we love it:
We’re not really the romantic type, nor are we particularly organised when it comes to buying gifts, so that’s why this email from Firebox won us over. Received on Thursday, 10th February, there were a mere two working days to secure a present for our sweetheart. But Firebox reassured us, and the rest of its customers, that all wasn’t lost—we could still beat the last-order deadline.

Subject: “P.S. We love you...”
Why we love it:
This was suggested to us by BrightMinds’ IT and web manager, Joshua Geake for its “simple and remarkably apt” subject line. And we agree. There’s something for everyone in the email: an outfit for a night out, gifts for her and him, chocolate and champagne indulgence and best of all, the chance of winning a weekend away. And we said we weren’t romantic…

Subject: “Bakker wishes you a happy Valentines day”
Why we love it:
We’re not sure we love it, but it certainly made us sit up and take notice. Sent on the 14th, the email wished us a happy Valentine’s Day. Making us feel even better, Bakker announced “Our customers love flowers, we love our customers!!” alongside a big picture of a bouquet of roses. Well, at least someone sent us flowers. The image almost led us to believe that this lovely arrangement was free with our next order, until we scrolled down a little further to see that a bundle of six towels was the free gift. We’re pretty sure “Huh?” wasn’t the desired the reaction.--MT

Friday, 25 February 2011

Catalogue e-business Readers Award

This year, Catalogue e-business has teamed up with the annual ECMOD Awards to introduce the Catalogue e-business Readers’ Award for most inspirational business in the catalogue and online retail sector.

The ECMOD Awards have been the Oscars of the home shopping sector since 1998, honouring the best the market has to offer. This year, Catalogue e-business is asking you to be a part of that success. The magazine is looking for the most inspirational catalogue or online selling business as chosen by its peers. All you have to do is nominate the direct seller you hold in the greatest esteem and the business with the most votes will be honoured at the ECMOD Direct Commerce Awards Evening at Lancaster London Hotel, 6th April 2011.

Voting is quick and easy using our online form--no printing, downloading, emailing or faxing required! Simply visit

As a special thank-you for voting, you will be entered into a prize draw to win two tickets to the ECMOD Awards Evening at Lancaster London Hotel, 6th April 2011.

Hurry--closing date for nominations is 4th March 2011.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Compare and contrast: Best Buy

Best Buy UK’s troubles have been well documented in the last few weeks, with a slew of management departures hitting the business. The UK store opening programme has also apparently reached a standstill and losses for the British side of the business are expected to reach £55 million this year, compared with a previously anticipated loss of no more than £45 million. So why hasn’t Best Buy’s low-cost-great-service USP translated well from the US to our shores? Perhaps a closer look at the retailer’s UK and US websites could shed some light.

First impressions
On entering the US site, (above), I was immediately asked whether I was a Spanish speaker or whether I wanted to continue using the site in English. The message was bold and clear, instead of being hidden on the home page where a non-English speaker may struggle to find it. This gets a tick from me in terms of usability. On the UK site, (below), I was greeted with a survey request: “Please could you spare a few minutes to give us your views on the Best Buy website? If so, please click on the 'Yes please' button below and the survey will open up in a new window for you to complete at the end of your visit.” In the interests of research, I clicked to take part—more on this later.

The home page
The first thing I noticed on the UK site is the horizontal category selector featuring 12 different sections. In contrast, the US site has only four. The categories on the US site have drop-down menus for subcategories, then a product list. For example: Products > TV & Video > Home Theater Systems. To find the same products on the UK site, the journey takes the user from the home-page tab TV& Home Cinema > Home Cinema Systems & Separates. In theory, fewer steps to find product would make the UK site more user friendly. But there’s an argument for both approaches: The US site narrows down the choices at the home page—the user only has four options and is less likely to get “lost” at this stage. The UK page, on the other hand, has lots of choice on the home page, but eliminates one step of the drop-down menu system—a sometimes tricky element, especially when using a laptop.

Category pages
Landing in the home theatre section on both the UK and US Best Buy websites, I was once again shown very different screens. The UK site has a lot more going on: one main image at the centre of the page and below it, 11 more product photos. Compare this with the US website (below): one main image that further breaks the category down into All-in-One Home Theater Systems, Speaker Systems, and Sound Bars. So if Best Buy in the States doesn’t devote most of the page to product, what does it use the space for?

Immediately below the main image are two boxes that take the user to an audio shopping assistant. Clicking through to the box on the right helps customers get the most from their digital music device, such as an iPod. The box on the left clicks through to a page featuring a photo of a home setting that guides the user through the different applications of home theatre systems. For example, help on picking the best system for outdoor use, or creating “multiroom audio”, which Best Buy helpfully tells me means playing music from your computer or system into other rooms of the house. This tactic works to impart Best Buy’s vast knowledge and encourage customer loyalty. By providing so much information and advice, Best Buy becomes the go-to place to find out about what’s new in the audiovisual marketplace. And there’s more—further down on the page is a link to a customer forum and a link to the Best Buy Community.

The UK website (above) also links to a forum from the left-hand side of the page, but the emphasis is less on advice and more on the sale. Instead of the audio shopping assistant, UK customers are presented with calls to action to buy a “web exclusive” or that “our online only range offers great value—click here”. Apart from the forum, the only other buyer’s guide comes in the form of an interactive video guide to buying the right TV. Again though, the onus is on “buying” rather than “evaluating”. On the plus side, I liked that the video presenter had a British accent. It demonstrates that this content is specifically for a British audience rather than a rehashed American production. The production values are great and the video does well to guide the user through the different choices he has when it comes to selecting a new television. This is a commercial operation after all, so I can’t really fault Best Buy for driving the customer towards a sale.

The product page and basket
I selected a system and added it to my basket—much easier to do on the UK site. I picked something straight from the category landing page. The US site required me to go to another page where I could compare systems. I picked a similar product and noticed the price—everything really is so much cheaper in America. In the UK, Best Buy’s prices are probably comparable with the current offerings of Comet and Currys. Both sites feature a very detailed product page, though the US site features more white space. In the UK, the product is the hero, with 366 words devoted to describing it. The product page on the UK site (below) is far more comprehensive with tabs for the customer forum, a “learning resources” tab, accessories and specs.

Now, here’s an anomaly: the US product page (below) has no product specs. I am all for customer reviews describing the user experience, but I would also think that how many HDMi ports, or USB ports the system has is important information. Can Best Buy really rely on its users to pass on enough product information? It seems a bit cavalier to me.

When I clicked to add the two items to their respective baskets, the pages were quite similar. On the UK site, customers can see the order total including delivery, and a reminder to purchase related accessories. The US site goes one better by estimating a shipping time, and displaying payment options at this stage and I could complete the transaction as a guest—no login required. It is here that the US site asked for my opinion, by displaying a popup for an exit survey.

The survey said…
I navigated away from the two websites to answer the customer survey on the UK site. It started off well, with copy informing me that the survey was short and would only take a few moments. It asked how likely I was to recommend Best Buy to friends, what I would like improved and which of the following had an influence on my decision to visit the Best Buy website today. A further three screens followed asking for various bits of information, but when it asked me “Based on your experience with the Best Buy website, how much do you agree or disagree with the following statements about the website? Please use a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 means strongly disagree and 5 means strongly agree. If a statement is not applicable to you, or you don't know how you would rate it, please leave it blank,” I gave up. I felt there were too many choices, who has the time or inclination to fill all this in? And it wasn’t over yet, six more screens followed, but I left the answers blank.

Overall, each website has its good and bad points. I like the product information on the British site, but I like the hand-holding the American site offers. The site clearly works well for the US audience, but somewhere it is not connecting with a UK customer base. In the US, the business has a strong USP, whereas it’s a relative newcomer here. So while it learns more about our customs, maybe a more concise survey would get a better response.--MT

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

January Catalogue Log

Continuing the upward trend noted in November and December, in January 2011 we received more catalogues than we did in January 2010. We logged in 150 catalogues last month, an uplift of 14.5 percent on the previous year, when 131 catalogues were tallied by the Catalogue Log.

Of the 150 catalogues tracked last month, 44 percent promised some sort of sale or discount. This is comparable with January 2010 and December 2010, when we noted that 43.5 percent and 43.9 percent of catalogues, respectively, promoted a price-related deal.

In contrast, the percentage of free-delivery offers declined significantly compared to the previous months, from 21.2 percent in December to 16 percent last month. In January 2010, 21.4 percent of covers touted free shipping.

The percentage of catalogues offering a free gift, on the other hand, increased appreciably from December—from 6.1 percent to 16 percent last month. That’s the highest it’s been since May, when one in five catalogues promoted a gift with purchase.

Among our favourite offers in January were Lakeland’s free silicone cupcake cases and free delivery for orders of £20 or more—a rare treat from the kitchenware merchant. We also liked Natural Collection’s triple whammy offer of up to 75 percent off, free gift with orders of £40 or more and free delivery when you spend more than £60.

We also received 41 business-to-business catalogues during January, of which we liked packaging supplies marketer Rajapack’s new-look catalogue. Brightly coloured and packed (ahem) full of offers, the cover succeeded in catching our attention. We all know that “sell from the cover” is an established catalogue maxim, and Rajapack makes the most of it by featuring both product and benefit on the front cover.

Overall however, 42 percent of the catalogues we logged did not tout any promotions, discounts, or offers on their cover, which seems odd considering January is traditionally associated with a massive sale period. One of the main reasons for this is that we saw a number of new-season catalogues arrive in January including Boden’s Spring edition, Chiltern Seeds’ wonderfully illustrated Veg Book 2011, and Travelling2’s Spring edition. A final note to Habitat: sending us your Christmas gift guide in January is not big and it’s not clever.--MT

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Catalogue e-business February 2011 issue

The February 2011 issue of Catalogue e-business is out now. Don't subscribe? Here’s a taste of what you’re missing

* Special Focus on social media: what is F-commerce and why does it matter? Advice on winning in the social-media space, and examples from the real world.

* Strictly business: why trade sales are critical to the Turtle Mat Company

* Company profile: an interview with Vic Morgan of Ethical Superstore

* Q&A with: Mark Berriman of Pet Supermarket

* Plus: the latest industry news, a review of the World Precision Instruments catalogue, a review of the micommerce system, and more.

If you don’t subscribe, you can click here to view a taster edition of the latest issue. But remember, the only way to read the magazine from cover to cover is to subscribe.

To have the print edition of Catalogue e-business magazine delivered to you, or for more information, contact Jill Sweet on 01271 866221 or

Emails we love--VAT promotions

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, it can’t have escaped you that the rate of VAT has gone up from 17.5 to 20 percent. Always ready to take advantage of a marketing opportunity, retailers flooded email inboxes with offers to beat the hike. Here are some of the memorable ones we came across:

Glasses Direct
Subject line: “Beat The VAT - All Prices Held + 20% Off Frames For 1 Week!”
Why we love it: The attention-grabbing headline (above) entices customers to open the email whereupon they are greeted by an attractive graphic containing all the necessary details. We also liked that those unsure about taking up the deal were further coaxed by friendly copy: “We are chuffed to bits to be able to tell you that we will not be increasing our prices this year due to the increased VAT. In fact it’s even sweeter than that, as until 11th January we’ll be cushioning the blow of increased VAT even further by also offering you an extra 20% off frames!” There’s no doubt left in the consumer’s mind as to what the offer is and how he can take advantage of it.

White Stuff
Subject line: “Spring sneak peak & more sale items”
Why we love it: This email from White Stuff sees us digress. The VAT rise is clearly not the focus of the email, though it does get a mention in a comic book-style speech bubble: “We are not putting our prices up!” Primarily, we love it for its fun and vibrant superhero theme, and most of all, the “New Adventures of Superdog” comic strip.

Subject line:
“Let Dell pay the VAT increase for you! Click here”
Why we love it: Yes, we know, the “Click here” in the subject line is redundant. So much better to say “Click to open and let Dell pay the VAT for you” or even just “Let Dell pay the VAT for you”. Aside from that, the idea is clever, it may only be a rise of 2.5 percent, but it’s better Dell pay it than us. Makes us feel like we’re sticking it to the man.--MT