June 9, 2005, 12:00 AM

Why catalogers didn’t launch Amazon

Catalogers need to grasp the complexities of web-selling to capitalize on their experience as direct merchants, Martin McClanan, president of Flax Art & Design, said at the Internet Retailer 2005 Conference.

Kurt Peters

Executive Editor

Catalogers need to grasp the complexities of web-selling, testing the effect on each of their selling channels, to capitalize on their experience as direct merchants, Martin McClanan, president of Flax Art & Design, told attendees at the Internet Retailer 2005 Conference & Exhibition this week.

“Why haven’t catalogers been the early leaders in the adoption of e-commerce?” asked McClanan, who is former CEO of Red Envelope and consultant to Williams-Sonoma and other retailers. “Why didn’t someone from direct marketing create Amazon? It’s because of the way they run their business.”

McClanan admitted that many catalogers have realized success in developing a web presence and multi-channel sales. They have also used the web to broaden their offerings of products, increased sales and expanded their customer bases, he said.

Using the web has also tripled the number of requests for catalogs and opened lucrative new markets such as corporate gift-giving programs, he added.

But many catalogers have missed out on the full potential that the web can bring to their overall operations, McClanan said. “If all you do is send a buyer to Hong Kong or China to find a product, it’s guaranteed that someone else will have the same product,” he said, adding: “Some web sites are just a replica of the catalog.”

One reason some catalogers have not pushed ahead with web technology and innovative online shopping experiences is their traditional focus on circulation analysis, “instead of web analytics and all the ins and outs of the web,” McClanan said. Catalogers need to take on new web technology and test how it affects customer activity, he added.

Flax, he said, has been working with design firm Groove Eleven to develop a rich media feature that will let children and their parents use a computer mouse to manipulate images of colored paper, scissors and other materials to create a virtual paper crown. Once they complete the crown, they’ll be able to order the same materials online to replicate the project in real life at home.

Flax Art & Design also owns two other web sites, corporate gifts site T. Shipley and Reliable Home Office, a retailer of office furniture and accessories.

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