March 1, 2004, 12:00 AM

Virtual catalogs drive sales as more retailers put them online

From Sears to CVS, retailers using virtual catalogs now number in the dozens. Consumers notice: 73% of those surveyed have used them, while 30% consider them useful tools.


The online, virtual representation of retailers’ paper catalogs is more than a gimmick--73% of online consumers polled by Forrester Research Inc. say they’ve flipped through them at retailers’ web sites, and 30% who’ve used the tools say they find them valuable.

As outlined in recent research reported by Forrester, 25% of web users polled say they use the online editions to easily find products they first saw in the paper catalog. But beyond that, the virtual catalogs are also reaching an audience that a retailer’s paper catalog may not reach: 35% of those surveyed said they flip through online catalogs even if they have never seen the printed version.

Forrester notes that shoppers who use the online catalogs tend to be slightly younger, are more likely to be female and to have home broadband connections than shoppers who don’t use the online catalogs. They also tend to be more frequent online shoppers. Forrester found that 65% of online catalog shoppers had purchased online in the past three moths vs. 42% of those who don’t use the virtual catalogs.

Multi-channel retailers now using virtual versions of their print catalogs and weekly flyers number in the dozens, ranging from Sears Roebuck & Co. to CVS Corp. “Retailers not yet putting their printed sales vehicles online should do so in 2004,” notes Forrester analyst Kate Delhagen. Those who’ve gained experience with the online catalogs should drill down to more specific metrics to inform operations such as local inventory control and promotions planning, she adds.


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