Why You Stink At Merchandising on the Web

This is a critical issue. Can you sell products online without aid of a catalog?

A few weeks ago, a reader sent me an email with this comment: “As an aside, I am somewhat at odds with you about digital.  So often customers will opt out of our emails or print catalogs with the comment – ‘I know what you carry.  If I want it, I will come to your website when I want it.’  But they don’t truly know what we carry.  In each catalog, 40% of our merchandise was not in our last catalog. Those who think they know what we sell are missing out on serendipitous discoveries.  The internet is great for directed search if you know what you are looking for.  But how do you search for something interesting for your aunt and her new housewarming gift when you have no idea what would really be something you haven’t seen before?”

The reader was referring to my previous comments that we need to make our websites stronger than our catalogs, because catalogs alone just aren’t going to cut it anymore. He echoed a similar comment from another reader who recently wrote “I have yet to meet a cataloger selling to the demographic that most do, that is selling things “nice” to have and not necessary to have, that can sell [a significant amount] of anything that is only on the site and is not shown in the catalog.  We have tried it many times.  The sales are just not material.  We have to promote it in the catalog.”

Both of these comments also tie back to my recent comment that just because something does not work with your catalog, doesn’t mean that it will not work for others.

So, let’s address this in parts.

First, we know it is possible to sell products online without aid of a catalog – just look at Amazon. Their sales of $136 billion are not just people buying stuff that they need – there is some browsing going on. A better example would be Build.com. They have a catalog (which gets a little better with every issue since I gave them a very critical catalog critique in this space a few years ago) which carries less than 1% of their product assortment. Their catalog is truly meant to get you to the site, where you’ll wander around looking for things for your home.

But both of these companies – and hundreds of other sites – have built their “brand” around being the source for “something”. In Amazon’s case, the “something” is everything.  For Build.com, it’s everything for home renovations. So, if you are a savvy consumer, and you get the Build.com catalog, you know it is just a sampling of what they have on-line.

But the challenges to this concept I receive are mostly from companies with gift or hard goods catalogs. They fail to realize that what is needed is a different approach to their website, not a different approach to their catalog. They will go to great lengths to be great catalogers – doing everything right from an “A Team” catalog perspective. They have a high percentage of new products. They are taking advantage of every postal discount they can. They are extremely efficient in cranking out each new catalog because they are unencumbered by any need to do anything different. They don’t want to do anything different. They believe their customers want that sense of “serendipitous discoveries”.

But what is really happening? I get so tired of saying this, but your great strategy of being efficient, regardless of the percentage of new products you have, is boring to the customer.

The first reader mentioned above, with the customers who say “I know what you have”, features a new and often very unusual product on the front cover of every catalog. I assume that upper management at this company thinks this is a great strategy as it gets the consumer to look inside, and to always be expecting something different. But the “overall theme” for the covers, and the overall pagination of the book itself is too repetitious – it has not changed, literally, in years. Yes, I understand the products change, but the “look” doesn’t change. They have put their customers to sleep. Their customers tell them they know what is in the catalog because in the customer’s mind, they do know. Of course, they don’t know specifically what is there, but they know this company sells “widgets” (I don’t want to use the actual product category, as I don’t want to identify this reader or catalog).

Further, the cataloger has given their customer NOTHING truly new to catch their attention.  In my opinion, it is a perfect example of catalog narcissism, because although the cataloger believes it changes all the time, the customer/consumer thinks that it never changes.

What does this have to do with selling products online that are not in the catalog? EVERYTHING. Here’s why: I think the problem with most catalogs is that they are lousy web merchants. When they first started selling online, the “web-only” products were the overstocks and lousy products that never sold in the catalog, so they stuck them on the web to clear out the inventory, where they sold no better. Thus, these catalogers have a basic sense that web-only products are dogs.

But, in the past few years, they have created web merchant positions. They usually assign “web merchandising” to a junior person, and give the person no support, no PPC funds, and would never think of putting new products on the web first. (I’ve had clients tell me they hold all new products to introduce in the catalog, so that the catalog is “special” to the customer.) Worse, due to internal organizational structures, I know that in some companies the catalog merchants can “steal” web-only merchandise, but it doesn’t work the other way around. Consequently, it becomes self-fulling that if you only keep the good stuff in the catalog, no one is going to think of going to your website to see what’s new, or if there is anything else. Old school thinking is killing most catalogs, and most of those old-school practitioners seem unaware that the front of the ship has slipped beneath the waves.

I love having Frank Oliver as a merchandise consultant now, someone I can turn to with just these sorts of questions. Frank of course agrees that catalogers need to see that extra web presentations can “fill out” the line of products, especially if you want to show category authority. A pedal-to-the-metal merchant like Frank sees web-only products as a huge testing lab. Products destined for the catalog always have a formal “vetting” process, which vary by cataloger, but tend to slow the introduction of new products, giving online-only companies an edge at introducing new products. On the web, a merchant like Frank can test 20 new products where as in the catalog he might have only tested 5.  “Yes, for most catalogers, web-only products do not sell in the volumes of on-page items, but there must be a “multiplier”. When I test 20 web-only products and pick the best five to run on-page next season, you start to build a “how much better” factor for on-page exposure. Small bets start to yield large returns in future catalog performance.”

What is the ultimate answer? We know products sell online without a catalog, it works for hundreds of companies. Can it work for “nice to have” products vs. “must have” products? Yes, if the consumer recognizes a reason to go to your website to see that bigger assortment. Think of it this way – your local supermarket puts an FSI is the weekly newspaper – you remember newspapers, right? It advertises what is on sale. Many shoppers plan their trip to the store with these specials in mind. But it is not a comprehensive list of everything in the store. They know when you get there you will browse and you will be influenced by endcap displays and POS merchandising. The FSI is just to get the customer to the store where the “discovery” takes place.

Most of you are never going to create that sense of discovery with your website, or give the customer a reason to go beyond your catalog. So, you are correct, in your case, the product has to be in the catalog to sell.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

blapierre@datamann.com

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Whose Call Is This – the CEO, Marketing or Merchandise?

Here was the question – “I’m a merchant, battling what our marketers do. In my opinion, catalog marketing optimization has its downsides, namely, blindly going where the response rates lie.  As more money is spent on the catalog, the optimization tactics our marketing department use quickly become our brand face.  Our catalog promotes an outdoor lifestyle, but because of always chasing response, our top sales drivers are more likely to be a turtleneck than a tent.  What can I as the merchant do, because I see this direction as ultimately destroying what originally made our company different?”

This question was from a reader of this blog, which I used in the Q&A portion of our catalog seminar in March. I asked Frank Oliver, our “merchant” at the seminar, to address the question. I had not shared the question with Frank previously.

As a merchant, it would have been easy for him to agree with this question, and put all the blame on marketing, as the reader who posed the question had done. But after a slight pause to consider his response, Frank replied “So, this merchant is complaining that one set of products is selling better than another, and is blaming marketing? This is not a marketing issue. Marketing does not pick what products go in the book. The CEO sets the direction for what products will exemplify the company’s “mission/brand”, and the merchants carry that direction out. Don’t blame marketing for driving response.”

“The optimization tactics our marketing department use quickly become our brand face. I’m a marketer, so I can imagine what tactics the merchant is referring to, namely using the co-ops for prospecting. If marketing instructs the co-ops to provide the most responsive names, and the co-op’s database skews towards an older consumer (let’s say 55+), then this merchant’s logic is that marketing has driven the catalog off its intended course by loading up on customers that don’t belong to the merchant’s vision of the intended customer.

I look at this a little differently. If you didn’t want to go to Chicago, why did you get on the bus bound for Chicago? If you did not want turtlenecks to become the “brand face”, why did you put them in the catalog in the first place? The reader stated that the catalog promotes “an outdoor lifestyle”. If the catalog is doing a decent job of promoting that “lifestyle”, then any product the consumer purchases gives them a connection to that lifestyle. Don’t blame marketing if the products being purchased begin to skew away from an intended or original mission for the company. The products in the catalog or on the website are there because the merchants put them there – and I’ve never met a merchant who did not think that every new product would sell well.

Besides, name a successful catalog or company where the product selection has not evolved over time. Isn’t the purpose of a company to maximize profits for the owners/shareholders? Wouldn’t that dictate that you sell the products that the customer wants, rather the ones which you think they want, or you think they should have? Yes, I know, you are going to point to Apple and quote Steve Jobs who probably said something cool about not selling turtlenecks when you could sell tents. But using this example, if your margins are sound on the turtlenecks, and the customers you acquire on turtlenecks convert to buy other products (like tents) from you, what’s the problem?

Yes, I agree that some marketing tactics can skew the composition of the audience. In the late 1980s when I took over as the marketing guy at Brookstone, I found that our prospecting strategy consisted of always offering a cheap premium (free jackknife or flashlight) with each first-time order. To drive response, the prospecting lists acquired from our rental/exchange partners (this was before the co-ops) were their “sale” buyers. All this strategy did was attract the pond-scum from everyone else’s files that wanted a free jackknife. So, this is not a new concept.

Ten years ago, the concept that the co-ops were skewing the composition of the customer base may not have been as well understood, or as evident, as my Brookstone model. But everyone in cataloging today should understand that the co-ops are skewing the composition of your buyers, certainly toward an older consumer. Can they also be skewed toward a propensity to purchase one type of product over another – certainly.  If a modeler at one of the co-ops knows that by providing you one group of names (turtleneck buyers) over another group (tent byers) that your response rate will be 10% greater, they are going to give you the higher performing names. The result of that might be more turtlenecks sold than tents.

The question becomes not how we got here or who is to blame. The question is whether you can make a course correction now. Ultimately, the companies that carve out a unique position in the market via merchandise will be the ones that survive. That may mean merchants need to prune from the product assortment those products that are commodity in nature and not in keeping with a product strategy that promotes that “uniqueness”. Of course, the CEO, and Board of Directors, must acknowledge that a move like this might mean forgoing short-term gain on the turtlenecks, to ensure long time survival by focusing on tents.

To answer the merchant’s original question as to what he can do, he can make everyone – especially the CEO – aware of the tradeoffs involved with maximizing response versus maintaining a unique identity via merchandise. And if the CEO still wants to take the bus to Chicago, at least you have made everyone aware of the consequences.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

blapierre@datamann.com

 

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What Makes You So Unique?- Merchandise Haiku

April 1989 – my first day on the job as the new marketing guy for the Brookstone catalogs. I had the usual litany of forms to fill out, obligatory tour of the warehouse, and review of our systems with IT.  Around 3 PM, one of my co-workers said “Oh, by the way, you have a 4 PM meeting in the main conference room. It’s a critique of the Spring catalog, the book that just mailed last week.”

This was new to me. I had come to Brookstone from the Potpourri catalog, which was still family owned, and family controlled. The family may have held critiques of the catalogs that we mailed, but we mere mortals never participated. I never knew what products were going into the catalog until we received samples back from the printer. Further, since the catalogs looked the same issue to issue, year to year, there was little to comment on from a creative perspective.

As I was headed down the hall to my 4 PM meeting, my co-worker yelled out “Oh, and watch out for Frank!” Who was Frank?

Frank turned out to Frank Oliver, who at the time was the merchant/product buyer for the Brookstone Hard-To-Find-Tools catalog.  Frank left Brookstone in the early 1990s to become head of merchandise at Gardener’s Supply, and then head of product development there.

Frank was astounding in that critique meeting, which included the CEO, the VP of Marketing for stores and catalogs (my boss), the catalog art director, and a cast of four or five others. Frank was animated.  Frank was LOUD (and still is). There were no results yet on the book, as it had just mailed, but Frank started to rattle off a list of changes that needed to be made for the next book.  He knew his facts. He was quantifying his opinions and ideas with data! This was back in the era of Lotus 1-2-3, with floppies that held one program each. Where was he getting this stuff?

Over the years, I have come to regard Frank as one of the best merchants I’ve known for one simple reason. He is passionate, yes, passionate about products. (But, then again, have you ever met a merchant of whom you would not say they were passionate about products?)   Yes, he’s great at envisioning fiendishly ingenious new products. Yes, he has some fantastic relationships with product vendors around the world.

But, those reasons are not why I consider him to be one of the best merchants. The simple reason Frank is so good is that he strives to quantify what he is doing. I have met tons of merchants who have no concept of how to quantify their product’s performance, or who don’t consider it part of their job. It’s not that it is “beneath them”, they just don’t know how to do it, or are not very good at it. They strive to excel at finding new products, that correspond with the persona of the catalog’s customer (who is named Colleen), and to discover the right color palate for this coming’s season.

Yes, those merchants do care about how those products perform; after all, their personal compensation depends on it. But they limit their knowledge of that performance to what their IT department can furnish for a “performance report”. These reports are different in every company, but they are rarely designed with the true needs of the merchants in mind.  They are typically designed by someone in IT, and focus on SKU numbers, not sales trends.

Are there merchandise metrics that matter? How does a merchant determine the true performance of their products? Again, everyone wants to see different things, and has different methods of evaluating products. Where do you start?

The Task for March 2017:

I gave Frank a challenge when I asked him to speak at our seminar on March 30.  Frank’s had quite a bit of exposure in the past few years, speaking at our first seminar 5 years ago, and a couple of times for NEMOA. He’s been his usually jovial self. He’s offered some great tips, but I told Frank that this time, I needed him to focus on not what the audience wants to hear, but on what they need to hear. Last summer, he agreed that he could do this.

Around January 1, I checked in to see how he was doing with getting ready for his presentation. Here was his response:

“You have given me a formidable challenge.  One that I am wrestling with, in all honesty.  The outline in the agenda you and I agreed upon has flexibility, so that’s fine. Less entertainment and more serious presentation content.  That’s tough. Takes time…

Working on a serious idea that might work. No laughing matter. Need just a bit more noodling to see if it holds for the complete talk. My flight plan:

I will distill all previous merchandising presentations to a concise, “best of breed” fast overview: merchandising key metrics, data management, and performance reporting (Building the Titanic), Merchandising goals – Marketing goals (Ready-Fire-Aim), Demand Conflicts (Attribution Retribution), Multi-channel Merchandising (Drone Warfare) Surviving World War III…….

Too dramatic?  Perhaps, but not so far off.”

I could tell from his response that Frank was going to exceed my expectations. Here’s why: some people get asked to speak at lots of conferences. They often just dust off last year’s speech, update a few slides with this year’s buzz words (social engagement) to sound relevant, and show up at the appointed hour on the designated day. Frank was wrestling with how to develop something new, something that was going to challenge you to think (which is what I ask both he and Kevin Hillstrom to do this year).

Last week, I asked Frank for a few “tidbits” from his presentation that I could weave into this posting. His response was so good, that instead of editing it, I offer it here in its full and original form. I’m not sure what “device” Frank uses to send me his emails, but because of the short sentences, and lack of paragraphs, this struck me as being a form of merchandise analytics Haiku.

“What makes you so unique?’

When a casual conversation drifts to hometowns, I always say I don’t have one!

‘My hometown is nowhere, and my friends are everywhere.’

‘Your Dad must have been a traveling salesman?’

No, career Military. I was a Brat.

Always moving, changing friends & schools every couple years, a drifter’s life, no roots really.

Makes me pretty unique, right?

I really thought so, until I saw the movie “Brats: The Long Journey Home”.

You see, Brats may physically look different, but our story & character is exactly the same in so many respects.

We are socially comfortable (aka Out-going), fiercely loyal (aka Keep America Strong & Protected), and refuse to give up (aka Excellent Survivor instincts).

Brats will tell a stranger their life story over a beer, but fail to share feelings of sadness or grief with their own family.

Brats are “invisible” and everywhere.  5% of our population are Brats. Millions of us!

Your catalog customers are really like a diverse group of Brats. Like it or not.

 

So spend less time trying to figure out what your Brats “look like” and more time enhancing their lives with meaningful product they will respond to!

When was the last time you immediately improved a new product based on negative Power Reviews?

When was the last time you surveyed buyers of a long time “best seller” to find out how it really works or how it could be sold effectively for other purposes?

When was the last time you spoke to a real customer about a real product that you sell?

When was the last time you had an “email relationship” with a customer that lead to introducing a great new product?

Merchants need fewer customer profiles and more good product intelligence!

Going to trade shows and asking suppliers “What’s selling” is NOT what should guide your new product strategy.

Merchants need to use their internet web tools to the fullest extent, because their customers are invisible & EVERYWHERE!

New rules apply; we are always moving, changing relationships and forced to survive in a more challenging market.

I would contend, therefore, that Military Brats make excellent merchants, they are personable, loyal, and very used to adapting to constant change!

They also don’t mind traveling…….they have friends everywhere, some they have yet to meet.”

 

Yes, as Frank stated, new rules apply. We must make changes to survive. If you are trying to determine how to grow by improving not just merchandise performance, but merchandise development, you need to be at the Datamann seminar on March 30th in Concord NH.

There is still time to register, but I recommend that you do it soon. Our registration is running 20% ahead of last year’s numbers.  Our host hotel is full, but there are still plenty of other hotels in the Concord, NH area.

If you have not already registered for the seminar, click here to visit the VT/NH Marketing Group’s website.

Registration costs for this all day event:

  • $135 for VT/NH Marketing Group members
  • $200 for non-members
  • Registrations are accepted until March 28, 2017

If you are not already signed up for emails from this blog, click here.

by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

blapierre@datamann.com

 

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Only $200, What A Deal!

Last fall, I gave you a detailed explanation of what Kevin Hillstrom would be speaking about at the Datamann catalog seminar, which we host for the VT/NH Marketing Group, on March 30th. (Click here if you missed it – “What Is Missing Is Not Metrics, But How We React To Metrics”)

Yesterday, Kevin’s blog gave a description in his own words of what he will be presenting (VT/NH On March 30 – A New Way To Foster Growth).

There are very few seminars or conferences left that focus on catalog and merchandise issues. Our seminar is one of them, and at only $200, you won’t find a more cost effective and affordable option.

If you are debating how to spend your limited Conference T&E budget, and you are looking for the most value ($200, what a steal!) coupled with the best content and great speakers – the choice is easy….

Join Frank Oliver, Kevin Hillstrom and me on Match 30th in Concord, NH for Reacting To Catalog and Ecommerce Metrics to Change Your Business.

Our seminar last year sold out a full month before the event, so please plan on registering early. Seating will again be limited. Our host hotel, The Marriott Courtyard/Grappone Conference Center, is almost sold out. But there are plenty of other hotels in Concord.

To register for the seminar, click here to visit the VT/NH Marketing Group’s website.

Registration costs for this all day event:

  • $135 for VT/NH Marketing Group members
  • $200 for non-members
  • Registrations are accepted until March 28, 2017

Our host hotel is almost sold out! The Marriott Courtyard/Grappone Conference Center, Concord, NH is located at 70 Constitution Ave in Concord, NH – just north of the intersection of I-89 and I-93. Special room rates of $119 are available for attendees of the seminar for the night of March 29, if you book your room with the Marriott by March 1, 2017. You must mention your attendance at the seminar to receive the special rates, or reserve your room directly at this special link: http://cwp.marriott.com/mhtcn/vtnhmarketinggroup/

If you are not already signed up for emails from this blog, click here.

by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

blapierre@datamann.com

 

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Registration is Open and Why I Asked Frank

Registration is open for Datamann’s catalog seminar which we are hosting for the VT/NH Marketing Group on March 30, 2017. There is a link at the end of this posting to register.

Datamann clients will be receiving information in the mail next week about registration.

I told you a few weeks ago why I asked Kevin Hillstrom to come back for a third year to speak at our seminar (What Is Missing Is Not Metrics, But How We React To Metrics).   Now let me tell you why I asked Frank Oliver to return as a speaker (he spoke at our first seminar in 2013).

Frank is a merchant’s merchant. He loves finding new products. He loves working with vendors to improve and change existing product to make it better. Frank is always thinking about margin, price, competition, and demand. Does the customer want the product? Does the customer understand how the product is going to change their life?

But, I asked Frank to do something different this year. I did not want him to come and speak again on what metrics a good merchant needs to know. I did not want him to talk about challenges in finding new products. That is pretty standard, boring stuff (to non-merchants).

Instead, I asked him to challenge your thinking about merchandise. To talk to you about merchandise insight.

10-25-2016-frank-oliver-photo-1-cropped

Frank believes that good merchandise and presentation analysis for merchants (maybe not for marketers or accountants) is about insight, which is typically not part of the robotic decisions made by traditional square inch analysis which so often kills new products before they have a chance to succeed.

According to Frank “merchant insight can only come from good trend and cross campaign analysis, which the discreet product sales or profit numbers found in traditional square inch analysis, simply do not, indeed cannot address.  To a merchant, ‘absolute’ profitability and sales numbers are ‘meaningless’.  Why?  Because they have no direct relation to whether that product is getting stronger or weaker.  Why?  If marketing spend goes up (meaning more circulation), line item profit goes down, with equal sales…… Did the product perform worse?  How do I trend this data when embedded variables not related to presentation strength are included? Cross campaign analysis simply cannot be done.  So what happens? Merchants start focusing on last year, same catalog, ONLY! They ignore what is happening with the product today.”

Frank believes that when merchants manage merchandise by the sales numbers and other standard metrics alone, their catalog ends up with all black pants. The catalog – though efficient – becomes boring, and dies a slow death. Frank is not one of those merchants that believe that if you have enough data, success will ensue, because “trends” are not always reflected in the sales data until it is too late. On the other hand, I have seen and worked with far too many catalogs where the merchants used no analytic tools/reports, simply using their “intuition” to determine which products to keep or omit, and they fared no better in performance.

So, what is the alternative? What is the analysis method that provides merchants that needed “trending insight”? Well, you’ll have to register for our seminar, and come to Concord, NH next March 30th to hear Frank.

But there is another reason I asked Frank to speak again. It’s not just about insight, it’s about inspiration. Frank is tired of seeing dull merchandise, tired of catalog and ecommerce companies failing to show product in a way that excites the consumer. So I asked Frank to debunk the role of Marketing and Creative in cataloging, as only a merchant like Frank can. To Frank, the greatest sin a catalog can commit is to be boring.

And anyone who has ever walked away from one of Frank’s session, has never walked away bored.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to keep providing reasons as to why you need to attend this seminar. Our seminar last year sold out a full month before the event, so please plan on registering early.  Seating will again be limited.

To register for the seminar, click here to visit the VT/NH Marketing Group’s website.

Registration costs for this all day event:

  • $135 for VT/NH Marketing Group members
  • $200 for non-members
  • Registrations are accepted until March 28, 2017

The Marriott Courtyard/Grappone Conference Center, Concord, NH is located at 70 Constitution Ave in Concord, NH – just north of the intersection of I-89 and I-93. Special room rates of $119 are available for attendees of the seminar for the night of March 29, if you book your room with the Marriott by March 1, 2017. You must mention your attendance at the seminar to receive the special rates, or reserve your room directly at this special link: http://cwp.marriott.com/mhtcn/vtnhmarketinggroup/

If you are not already signed up for emails from this blog, click here.

by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

blapierre@datamann.com

 

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2016 Holiday Catalog Observations – Part 3

Lots of people predicted the election results incorrectly, and I called the mail volume wrong. I expected there would be a ton of catalogs in-home during the four day stretch after the election, yet I hardly received any catalogs the entire week of the election. Instead, the stack of catalogs below all arrived at our home last Monday and Tuesday (November 14 and 15). Yes, some are client seeds/decoys, but most were addressed to either me or my wife as consumers.

nov-2016-catalog-stack

Is this a concern? Well, most mailers I spoke with reported that orders took a dive right after the election, so maybe it was a good idea not to be in home that week. If your response did not bounce back last week, maybe you need to consider that your catalog was received with a ton of others at your customer’s house. Did that offset those co-mail savings?

However, in general, I’ve heard and seen that results this fall season have been soft, as much as 30% off plan for some mailers, primarily on prospecting.  Please let me know what you’re experiencing with your catalog (all comments will be kept confidential).

National Geographic – Another One Bites the Dust

Yes, it’s true. The National Geographic catalog is no more.  A year ago, the National Geographic Society sold its iconic magazine and other “media assets”, including the catalog, to a partnership owned by Fox News.  A few weeks ago, Fox pulled the plug on the NG catalog. This holiday’s book is the last.

national-geographic-2016-ho

I’m sure there were numerous reasons why the action was taken, and I’m not going to guess at what they were. However, I have to say that as a consumer, I’ve always been disappointed by the NG catalog. When you think about it, over the years, they have reported on every country, state and major US city. They have covered everything. So their catalog could be about anything and everything. Their product mix could have been limitless. Instead, they have had a strange interest in selling lots of binoculars, leather jackets, and photographer’s vests – products I imagine were intended to show their “traveling spirit”.

national-geographic-2016-ho

I’m sure that the folks at NG would disagree, but to me, as a consumer, it seemed that the product assortment changed little over time. Case in point is this sweater I’ve had my eyes on for years. It seems to me that it has always been in the catalog. One would hope it was a good seller, and that is why it is repeated year after year. But, the consumer just keeps seeing the same old stuff.

Moreover, if I were going to buy a leather “bomber” jacket, the NG catalog, which has a bunch of them, is the last place I’d buy one. I’d buy it from an apparel catalog, one that appeared to have some “authority” in men’s clothing.

When I worked at Brookstone, we hired a company that “surveyed” customers as they left our stores in the mall (you’ve all encountered this). The surveyor asked what the customer purchased. “Oh, I bought a travel clock. I’m going on a trip, and  always come to Brookstone when I need a gadget like that”. “Do you need a suitcase?” “Yes, but I’d never buy a suitcase at Brookstone.” “Why not?” “Brookstone is good for gadgets, not something like a suitcase”.    Our merchants used that type of customer feedback to design suitcases that had “gadget-type” features, which appealed to our customers. Suitcase sales soared.

My point is that when you expand product categories, (one of the best ways to drive growth) you must make certain that the new products are not only consistent with your brand, but are consistent with your customer’s expectations of you.

Society 6

I told a mailer last week that every so often we encounter a business that is doing things completely opposite of the way other mailers act. When that happens, you always pause and ask yourself  “Have they discovered something that the rest of us missed?” An example was in my mail box this week, a catalog called Society6, which appears to be yet another attempt at a catalog aimed at breaking every conventional catalog rule. (I could not determine for certain from their website how long Society6 has been around – it appears they are somewhat established – but this is the first time I received their catalog.)

society6-nov-2016-cover

Of course, every so often, someone manages to break every rule, not follow convention, and be successful. You can do that when money is in unlimited supply. But when you need to actually make some money, it’s a good idea to do things that have proven successful in the past.

society6-nov-2016-p1617

 

It has all the usual problems of a catalog designed by someone who knows nothing about creating a response. Microscopic mention of the 20% off and free shipping offer, “celebrity” endorsements from the artists represented on the site, products intentionally shown upside down – you get the picture. But, my biggest concern for this catalog is lack of product, and the products shown are too inexpensive to support this catalog. Most products were under $20, and the most expensive I saw was $31. Low price and low product density are not a winning formula for a profitable catalog. Some of the products are cute, and unique. There just are not enough to make this catalog successful.

Here is the strange thing: Society6 is a website for artists to sell their “art”, which might be on a mug or t-shirt. They have plenty of products online. Why weren’t more in the catalog? There was probably some sort of “juried” selection process as to which products were included in the catalog, as well as how the catalog was designed. Yes, I’m a big believer in not showing every product in your assortment in the book, and using the catalog to drive traffic. However, Society6 does a lousy job of communicating that there are other products online, and gives no reason to go to the website to see them. A classic wasted opportunity.

Who knows, maybe this design and lack of conventional format resonates with their core customer. But, making this catalog a profitable and viable prospecting tool will be tough the way they approach acquiring new catalog customers.

From all the staff at Datamann, have a happy Thanksgiving this week.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

blapierre@datamann.com

 

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