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Catalogs Need to Become “Web-Centric”

This is another guest blog posting from our good friend, Bill LaPierre at Datamann, a full service list processor.  Please check out Bill’s blog by clicking here.

 Doing Away with Catalog Requests 

 Have you ever considered the consequences of doing away with catalog requests on your website?

I had a call recently with a client who was responding to one of my recent blog postings about catalogs evolving to being more web-focused companies. The client said  “I’m so glad we are no longer catalog oriented, and that we are now web-centric”. I said “Oh really. Tell me, what percentage of the products in your product assortment are web only?” He replied that none were, because they believe that if a product is good enough to be in the assortment, it should be in the catalog. Ouch.

I consider that question about web-only products one of my litmus tests for determining how “web-centric” a cataloger truly is. Another test is whether the cataloger makes it mandatory to leave an email address when requesting a catalog. My opinion is this – if you are willing to spend between 60 cents to a $1.50, to send someone a catalog that they requested from your website, you should require that customer to give you their email address. A customer with an email address is 2 to 4 times more valuable to you than one without an email address. The same is true for prospects.

I wanted to see just how many catalogs make leaving an email a requirement for making a catalog request. Since I just got back from the NEMOA conference, and had the list of attendees, I decided to use that list of catalogers as my test pool. (There’s nothing unique about NEMOA attendees, I simply had the list handy).

I did a quick count of 65 catalogs on the list (there may have more, but these were the ones I recognized on the attendees list). I requested a catalog from 58 of those companies – and exactly half of them did not require me to provide an email address when requesting a catalog.

I don’t get it. Why wouldn’t you want to capture that customer’s email address as a pre-condition of sending them a catalog? You are spending your money to send them something for free, the least you could do is make them invest their email address.

But why do we even make catalog requests available on our websites? After all – you have a potential customer right there on your website – your catalog laid out in digital fashion – and yet by offering a catalog request, you are effectively encouraging the customer not to shop with you right now, while they are in your store. We offer the catalog request because we are told that it is the right thing to do – that we must be all things to all people, and above all, we must have a consistent customer experience across all channels.

If you annualized their performance, many of you lose money on catalog requests. They used to be a much larger, and much more productive portion of every catalog’s circulation planning. Do you remember the Catalog of Catalogs? It was a catalog that listed nothing but other catalogs which you could request. But, the web changed all that – potential customers can check out your website instead of requesting your catalog to see if you have the goods they want.

In the process of requesting those 58 catalogs, I visited the Uno Alla Volta site, and discovered something. I could find no place on the site to request a catalog. Their sister catalog site – The Artisan’s Table – does take catalog requests.  But on Uno Alla Volta’s site, you can view their current catalog, but not request it.  Did they A/B test this? Did they analyze the impact on customer complaints? I don’t know, but I found their approach – assuming that it is on purpose – a refreshing idea. Force the customer to shop now.

Here’s another one: many of those catalog requests started showing up this week, and many of them were mailed first class – with over $1.20 in postage alone. I can understand that if you have a catalog aimed at consumers over age 70, catalog requests are still a good idea. But I hope people are doing the math to determine if it is worth it to send these catalogs.

Making catalog requests available on our website is the kind of “catalog industry” standard operating procedure we have been conditioned to do automatically. It is are also exactly the type of procedure we must question as we try to adapt to a new world dominated by companies like Amazon and Wal-Mart that don’t have catalogs.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 802-295-6600 x235

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