April 30, 2007, 12:00 AM

Works Hard for the Money

(Page 2 of 3)

In fact, the fliers proved effective, cheap and quick at getting people to visit the site-which is stacked with not only more products but more content about them, with the goal of providing all the information customers need to make a purchase decision without contacting the call center.

“We kept thinking, and now believe, that the catalog is a tool to drive people to the site,” Robertson says. “So it needs to be entertaining and represent the brand well, and ultimately drive people to visit Backcountry.com.” Robertson adds with about 20% of the house list now identified as the sweet spot for catalog mailings-an increase from 10% of the list last year-Backcountry will add dedicated staff for the catalog operation, now established as a permanent part of its direct marketing operation.

“It becomes very simple. You mail a catalog to this part of your list and it will pay back at a very high ROI every time,” Robertson says.

If catalogs are new territory for an Internet retailer such as Backcountry, they’re familiar country for established cataloger Lillian Vernon, whose challenge was not pioneering paper mailings but coordinating the strategy of its newer web site with its long-established catalog operation.

Lillian Vernon now does about 17 catalog mailings a year, a slight reduction from prior years that Buleza says is due to a streamlining of the company’s focus rather than a greater number of customers coming online. Sales coming in via the catalog and call center now are approximately even.

Coordinating web and catalog strategy is enabling the company to cut back in places where the web can step in with no diminution in sales. For example, Lillian Vernon had planned to mail a clearance catalog right after the 2006 holiday season and also scheduled a catalog with new merchandise to go out in January.

Let’s get together
The company decided to consolidate the two planned catalog mailings, with an insert of 36 pages of clearance merchandise in the regular new merchandise catalog planned for early in the new year. Lillian Vernon’s e-commerce group’s role was to pave the way for the clearance items with a marketing e-mail that preceded by a few days the combined catalog drop.

“We were able to eliminate a book we would have had to produce and mail and save a lot of money-and the strategy worked great,” Buleza says.

Backcountry.com experienced similar success when coordinating e-mail campaigns with its catalog drops. Robertson says Backcountry sees an increase in click-through rates and conversion if it times an e-mail campaign for just after it mails a catalog. “It’s probably that if the brand is fresh in people’s mind because they just saw it in the catalog they are more responsive to opening the e-mail,” he says.

Lillian Vernon also is looking at how its web and catalog marketing efforts can be combined to offset a strategic decision at the corporate level that moves the company’s promotional strategy away from a previous focus on free shipping. While the catalog has a longer lead time and shelf life, the web as a more nimble medium can be used to communicate updated information about promotions, products and services to customers in real time as new situations develop, Buleza notes.

One example is cut-off dates for holiday delivery that had been published in the paper catalog at the start of the season. As the holiday approached, order processing was running so smoothly that Lillian Vernon decided it could extend the original cut-off date by two days, an announcement it made on the web site and via e-mail. “It was a great way to communicate to our customers that they still had time,” Buleza said. “We couldn’t do that in the catalog.”

Lillian Vernon expects to gain more insights into how to best coordinate catalog and web strategies following its recent move to Catalog Vision, a data processing service for the catalog direct marketing industry that’s a unit of InfoUSA Services Group. It’s providing Lillian Vernon a single view of customers across channels via match-backs of customers’ web and catalog behavior. While the data were available from its previous database vendor, the retailer had to process requests for reports through the vendor. The new database puts that capacity directly into the hands of business managers at Lillian Vernon, Buleza explains.

“We see the catalog as an important part of the mix, and we’re measuring through match-back and other types of analysis how much web business is connected to the catalog,” he says.

Given the postage rate increase announced for this month, Buleza also is looking to the data to continue to refine catalog and web strategies down the road. “Companies may use data they have to tailor messaging in catalogs-and the page count, especially if they are thinking of right-sizing their investment in that contact stream to what customers support,” he says.

Blair Corp. is another long-time cataloger using the power of the web to refine catalog strategy. The company, launched in 1910, still defines itself as a catalog house despite the web site it launched in 2001 because of its heritage and the demographics of its core customer-older women of low to moderate income. “She’s doing more shopping on the web, but it’s not as web-centric as what a lot of other companies might see,” says Jeff Parnell, vice president of marketing.

Parnell is careful to state the company wants customers to shop the channel of their choice. That said, the men’s, women’s and home catalogs that go to Blair customer segments almost every week now have a new task beyond sales: they’ve taken on a big part of the job of educating customers on the benefits of shopping Blair.com. For example, a recent home catalog had language pointing shoppers to “great decorating tips in our guide to window fashions on Blair.com.”

Enhanced zoom recently added to the site is played up in the catalogs, with the tip on catalog pages that Blair.com’s new online zoom provides visuals of even the tiniest details of stitching or fabric. Catalogs also promote customer product reviews, recently added to the web site from technology vendor Bazaarvoice Inc., with an invitation to customers to visit the site to share their own recommendations.

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