April 30, 2003, 12:00 AM

Catalogs go virtual—but the benefits are real

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Even so, shoppers may not wish to browse an entire multi-page catalog when online. Unlike pages specifically for presentation on a web site, which may be designed so as to reduce file size and speed download times, online catalog pages duplicate print pages, whose design doesn’t take such elements into account. Tested on dial-up 56K modems that still represent the connections used by the largest share of at-home users, Bombay’s catalog pages online take 8 to 11 seconds to load, while some of the larger pages take longer. To tackle the problem, the catalog initially presents a smaller, faster-loading view of each page. Users can then click on a page for the larger view.

Does size matter?

DS Retail Technologies, which has launched online catalogs for several retailers, says it has yet to demonstrate a correlation between the physical size of the online catalog page, the click-through rate and conversions. However, says Hesky Kutscher, president of sales and marketing, the effect of the size of the page will likely vary depending on the type of product pictured, the age group of customers and other factors.

Though Bombay is pleased with the performance of its online catalogs so far, Corey emphasizes that they are intended to complement, not replace, the company’s printed catalogs. Their job is to broaden the catalog’s reach, help acquire new customers and cross sell and upsell from the platform originally created and distributed as print material.

Bombay’s next development in its online catalog will be to e-mail catalogs. Corey says he anticipates doing tests of the cross-channel response to e-mail catalogs later this year. For example, any customers registered to receive the print catalog who also have e-mail addresses registered with Bombay could receive the catalog online a few days in advance to pique interest in the printed catalog that will arrive by mail.

The online catalog also can help save on printed catalog distribution costs based on customer segmentation, Corey says. “If we’ve already allocated budget as to how many printed catalogs we can send out, the online catalogs can supplement that. Top prospects, existing customers, catalog requests-you want them to get your regular printed catalog.”

Online catalogs also can serve as a testing vehicle, points out Kutscher, allowing Bombay to test response online not only to products and offers, but to creative content slated for the print catalog before the catalog is actually distributed.

Harder metrics

As Bombay continues to develop its catalog presence online, Corey says he’ll be looking for harder metrics on usage and shopper behavior. Bombay also will look for whether online catalog usage is driving sales online and in stores. Corey admits that the effect of the online catalog on store sales will be difficult to monitor, and Bombay will for now depend on store reports of catalog pages being printed off the web and carried in by customers.

But in Bombay’s growing view that success is measured in channel integration rather than channel segmentation, getting the sale is more important than whether it arrives through the online catalog or is simply influenced by it. “As you blend these things, how you delineate the parts becomes less important than how the parts connect,” Corey says. “It doesn’t matter how big each puzzle piece is, but that we’re connecting all the pieces.”

mary@verticalwebmedia.com

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