May 27, 2008, 12:00 AM

Lessons learned with print and electronic catalogs

Since launching Fair Indigo as a multi-channel retailer in September 2006, co-founder and CEO Bill Bass says he has learned the value of having an in-depth print catalog backed by an electronic version.

Since launching Fair Indigo as a multi-channel retailer in September 2006, co-founder and CEO Bill Bass has learned the value of having an in-depth print catalog backed by an electronic version, he said in a keynote address last week at the annual ACCM catalog industry conference.

Fair Indigo does about 70% of its sales at FairIndigo.com, 25% through its print catalog and the remainder through a single store in Madison, WI, Bass said. A former head of direct channel sales at Sears, Roebuck and Co. and of e-commerce sales at Lands’ End before it was acquired by Sears, Bass says the experience of operating Fair Indigo has taught him to look at the relationship between the web and catalog in a new way.

Fair Indigo introduced its print catalog with an emphasis on attractive imaging but sparse product details, figuring the catalog would serve as a promotional tool that would drive visitors to a web site full of product information. But Bass soon realized that the catalog as well as the web site needed more “product density” to be useful to readers, he said.

Bass added, however, that the print catalog may become more of a promotional tool that supports the web and store channels. “I think catalogs will evolve over time, but we’re not there yet,” he said. “The old rules will still be here for about another five years.”

The comfort many shoppers have in browsing through print catalogs also supports the use of e-catalogs that mimic the page-turning experience on the web, Bass said. “At first, I thought electronic catalogs were a dumb idea, but I’ve changed my mind,” he said.

Instead of offering what he thought was a meaningless online repetition of the print catalog shopping experience, Bass said e-catalogs have been shown to provide the same orderly shopping experience that some catalog readers prefer online. “Clicking through a web site is an awful way to browse through a catalog,” he said.

E-catalogs also serve as good marketing tools because a retailer can immediately e-mail a PDF version to customers who request a catalog, he added. “Now when we send a PDF and then a paper catalog, we get to hit them twice,” Bass said.

Fair Indigo specializes in selling apparel made with organically grown cotton under fair-trade market rules designed to provide fair compensation to garment workers.

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