January 19, 2004, 12:00 AM

First-time catalog gets credit for holiday sales lift at BackcountryStore

Within 5% of projections every month for the rest of the year, sales soared 40 points over forecast in November after the catalog shipped. The outdoor gear retailer plans 3-4 additional catalog mailings this year.


A first-ever catalog for 6-year-old outdoor gear retailer BackcountryStore.com gets most of the credit for November and December sales numbers that far exceeded projections, vice president of business development John Bresee tells Internet Retailer. November sales were up 166% over last year and December sales figures, still preliminary, are up approximately 200% year over year. Yet projections for November, for example, were originally 126% over the previous year, leaving a 40 point difference Bresee attributes to the catalog that reached customers’ homes in mid-November.

“The rest of the year, we were within 5% of sales projections for every month,” says Bresee. “We essentially gave credit for anything over our projections to the catalog.” While the company deems the catalog a success, BackcountryStore will have to go back to the drawing board on a tracking mechanism that captures customers` precise path from catalog to web site and call center. The catalog provided specific SKU numbers for customers to use in doing a web search that would bring up that item’s page in a web search. But instead of using it, customers showed a greater tendency to simply go to the web site, look around it and locate the item themselves. While offering a discount for using such codes is one way to motivate shoppers to do so, BackcountryStore decided against that, in part because it didn’t want to give away the margin and in part because manufacturer price controls on many of the products it offers don’t allow that kind of pricing flexibility, he adds.

Nevertheless, Bresee is certain it was the catalog that provided the extra year-end lift. In addition to the November and December sales figures--after the catalog shipped--topping earlier projections, he notes that the web site saw a major spike on November 15, the day the catalog was scheduled for in-home delivery. BackcountyStore also gauged the catalog’s performance based on information from the call center, where agents asked customers for a catalog referral number.

At an estimated fixed cost of about $25,000 with an addition per-unit printing and distribution cost that totaled approximately $80,000, the four-color, 24-page catalog, representing about 180 of BackcountryStore`s 15,000 online items and going out to about 175,000 existing customers, more than paid for itself in sales, Breese says. The company expects to do 3-4 catalogs this year, he adds.


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