Target and Toys R Us posted overall sales declines during the holidays.
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The Artful Home launched in 2003 at Guild.com to sell original artwork that also functions as home decor: pillows, lamps, furniture, ceramics, glassware, and, of course, sculpture, paintings, prints and photography. Because it’s trying to convey the advantages of its wares over the latest products from Target, it needs to be able to display them in the context of a room, and nothing does that better than a catalog, Baum says. The Artful Home does 14 paper catalogs a year, and they all go up on the web site.
No tail wagging the dog
The e-catalog project costs only staff time-The Guild’s in-house web developer created the program using the electronic files from the catalog’s printer. The e-catalogs are exact duplicates of the printed pieces, except with a mouse-over feature that links the images in the e-catalogs to the web site product pages. Print is still the priority when the catalog is designed, Baum says. “It has to be driven by how people use paper catalogs. The e-catalog gives people who come to the web that same environment, but we haven’t changed it because it’s online. We can’t have the tail wagging the dog.”
Though Baum doesn’t have actual data to measure how well the e-catalog works, he says he’s fully committed to keeping it on the site. “It’s hard to track specific conversions from the catalog,” he says. “It’s as much supporting the brand as anything. We get a lot of positive feedback about the catalog itself, both paper and electronic.”
Like Office Depot, Rutland Tool and Supply also has a customer base of staunch paper-catalog fans. The Whittier, Calif.-based tool seller does about $55 million a year in both wholesale and retail sales. It does a mere 2% of its business on the web, but wants its customers to switch to Internet ordering, says advertising director Jim Henry.
To that end, the company introduced the first electronic version of its full catalog-1,300 pages with 85,000 items-in January 2006. Henry had initially tried Google Catalogs as an experiment, but quickly rejected it because of the inability to click into the e-catalog pages for more product details or to make a purchase. For the full-blown effort, he turned to Fenton, Mo.-based Dirxion, which specializes in digitizing paper-based publications: directories, books and magazines, as well as catalogs.
Converting Rutland Tool’s big book to an e-catalog cost about $30,000, Henry says. In addition to being on the Rutland Tool web site, the e-catalog has a second life as a CD mailed to the company’s best customers. Rutland also publishes a 48-page sale flyer every couple of weeks, and has been converting those to e-flyers through Dirxion at about $1,000 each.
Rutland sends Dirxion the same high-resolution PDF files that its printer uses, along with URLs for each item in the catalog. A few days before the catalog’s online debut, Dirxion puts it up on a test site so that Rutland can try it out. So far, Henry has found only one incorrect link in all of the converted publications-15 sale flyers plus the big catalog-he says.
The two companies try to have the new catalogs posted on the web site about a week before they arrive in customers’ mailboxes. Rutland has e-mail addresses for about a third of its customers, and they receive a heads-up e-mail that their catalogs are on the way. A weekly e-mail blast includes links to a half-dozen items from the current sale flyer.
Both the catalog and the flyers have features designed to make them more user-friendly. One is an English-Spanish toggle, though it covers only the instructions and the table of contents, Henry says, because a full translation would be prohibitively expensive and probably unnecessary. “The instructions and the contents are enough if the guy knows what he’s looking for.”
Rutland’s sale flyers have a sticky-note feature that lets users annotate potential purchases and return to them later-a handy feature when faced with an assortment of products that aren’t as neatly categorized as those in the full catalog.
Rutland recently incorporated a video link into one of its e-flyers. “Sometimes we have a product that requires a little more explanation,” Henry says. One pair of safety gloves looks a lot like another, but the video explained the qualities that set this particular glove apart and made it worth the marginal extra cost.
Rutland frequently produces its print sales flyers cooperatively with its vendors, and Dirxion was able to accommodate vendor inserts by placing a logo icon in the main flyer that will take the shopper right to the vendor’s section.
What makes a good e-catalog? Adam Marino of Flipseek, who has test-driven more catalogs than most people, says speed is essential. “People are looking for something that’s easy to flip through, and very fluid and interactive,” he says. “With some catalogs, every time you flip a page, it has to reload itself. There should be no delay in graphics or stuttering of the page.”
Shoppers also like it when they can “dog-ear” an e-catalog’s pages, just as with print catalogs. “The really interactive ones have a bookmark feature, so that you can tag the page where you were looking at a product, and you don’t have to remember which page it was on,” Marino says.
Retailers can also take advantage of a print catalog’s high-resolution images by letting e-catalog shoppers zoom in and see the stitching on a jacket or the brushstrokes on a painting.
Are e-catalogs worth it? These retailers lack hard data, but their intuition tells them to stick with the technology. “We don’t have the capacity right now to measure our results,” says Gavin Contreras, marketing research manager of Rutland Tool and Supply. “But are we going to keep doing it? Absolutely.”
Elizabeth Gardner is a Riverside, Ill.-based freelance business and Internet writer.
Click Here for the Internet Retailer Guide to Providers of E-Catalogs Products & Services