Skip to content

“Web-only” merchants


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.


Web Only Merchants and Events in Boston 


When I use to visit catalog clients 10 years ago, every client would ask “so, do you want to see our new warehouse space?” I always had to say yes – and I soon learned that every warehouse looked the same.


Today when I visit, most clients ask if I want to meet the new “web only” product merchant. This posting is about these web only product merchants, and the similarities I see among them. (Unlike warehouses, at least they all don’t look alike).


There is a major dividing line in catalogs these days. There are catalog companies that believe that only products pictured in the catalog can sell (even if that means cramming so many products per spread that the book just looks bad). Conversely, there are those catalog companies that believe in expanding out their assortment beyond the printed page, and having more products that are on the web only.


The catalogers that believe that product can sell only if it is in the catalog have some very strong and visible adherents, and they always have “facts” to back up their opinion:

·        First, they believe that if a product is good enough to be part of the assortment, then by right – or at least by common sense – it belongs in the catalog. What’s the point in having it otherwise?

·        Second, they can point to their prior experience that web-only products don’t perform. But when I press them on this, I find that their web-only products were discontinued products, clearance products, or just plain dogs to begin with. They were not given any support via PPC, email or anything else. So of course they bombed. 

I am a big believer in having more products on the web. The catalogers that embrace having an assortment beyond the scope of the catalog will tell you that they are no longer “catalog centric”.  I applaud them for being open-minded. But, they are still not fully embracing everything that they should about being more of a web based company. (Yes, I know I should be using the term omni-channel, but for the time being, let’s just divide the world between catalogs and ecommerce.)


One of the key places I see catalogs stumbling when it comes to being more “web focused” is their hiring of and employment of web-only product merchants. These are merchants whose sole responsibility is to source additional products, which will reside only on the web. For the majority of catalog companies that have someone in this position, I have not seen the position work out well. Here’s why:


·        This is not a knock against any of the web-only product merchants I have met. They are all talented buyers. However, for the most part, they have not been very experienced. Youth should not be a disqualifier for competence. But, there is something to be said for experience. What I see is catalog companies not wanting to commit one of their senior buyers to this role, so it gets assigned to a talented, junior or assistant buyer that the company is looking to “promote”. But those individuals just don’t have the depth of contacts in the industry, or the “seasoning” to identify great new products.

·        The products they do source are not always viewed internally as “brand appropriate” or “core” products.  Otherwise, the feeling is, one of the senior catalog buyers would have already found it, and placed the product in the catalog. The web-only products are often viewed as being accessories, in support of the products in the catalog.

·        So because these products are often never regarded as being “A list” products, they are not always given the full support of the company with regards to promoting these products with PPC or email.

·        But here’s the biggest problem – I have seen too many instances where one of the web-only merchant’s products gets selected for inclusion in the catalog, while they never have the option of taking a great catalog product and make it a web-only product, except in those instances when the product was being retired from the catalog anyway.

·        Finally, they are not allowed to break-away and develop a new product category that is completely detached from the core categories in the catalog. Their web-product selection is simply a microcosm of what the company is already selling. Their hands are almost always tied. 


I’m sure that there are many exceptions to what I have described. I’m sure that conditions in the companies I have described will continue to improve, and catalog companies will see the value of their web-only product initiatives. But if they take too long, they will have simply trained some very good merchants, who will seek employment with companies that truly embrace the web, mobile and ecommerce, and are not simply trying to add accessories to their catalog that are available on the catalog’s website.


Events in Boston


The staff at Datamann extend our prayers and support to the victims of the tragedy last week in Boston. We are obviously very sensitive to this event because of Datamann’s close proximity to Boston.  But, it quickly became a national event, with national coverage. Add in the explosion at the fertilizer plant in Texas on Wednesday night, and last week was simply a bad news week here in the US.

          In consulting with Mike Hayden from 4Cite Marketing last Friday, we both heard from a number of clients that sales took a significant drop last week.  Don’t be surprised if you see a similar pattern. 

          But what happened last week should serve as a reminder as to why you never put all your circulation for a season onto a single mailing, no matter how strong that “mail date” or that “special cover” appears to be. Spread you circulation, especially your prospect names, over at least two mailings.  You never know when you are going to be mailing into a national event like this, which becomes such a huge distraction.

If you are not already signed up for emails from this blog, click here.

by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 802-295-6600 x235

Back To Top