The shift to a two-step conversion

Oct 01, 2009 9:30 PM  By

One of the latter-day dangers many catalogers face is using their print editions as bland feeder-mechanisms to their Websites.

Whether a target customer regards this as a curiosity, an annoyance or the next generation of catalog communication seems to depend on how deeply that individual is rooted in tradition. But is acceptance or rejection of tradition the sole criterion of both effectiveness and the future?

Oh, print catalogs are dropping like flies. Still, survivor-health is so widely split between catalogs that promote a Website and those that simply have a Web presence that a universal conclusion is either premature or wrong.

“But it’s in our Web catalog.”

I was careful to head for a discount catalog’s Website the same day a print catalog arrived. That way, the parallel would have at least some accuracy.

The cover of the print catalog showed three items — a “fat-burning patch,” a “2-piece body shaper” and a shoe space saver. At the bottom was a reference to a special inside, the Web address and a toll-free number.

The Web landing page had six items, including the body shaper (the “special”) plus directions to a batch of links, one of which was “Web Only Preview” and another of which was a powerful “Clearance Outlet — save up to 80% on hundreds of items.”

Click on “Web Only Preview.” The heading for a group of six items: “Welcome to our Web Only Preview Shop! As a highly valued web customer, you are getting a sneak-peek at these great As Seen On TV and other items before they appear in our catalog. Click below and order today to be the first one on your block to have these brand new products as soon as they arrive!

Were any of these, or was any reference to these, in the printed catalog? Can’t tell easily, because the printed catalog had no index — the logical parallel to Web links.

Many Web catalogs, once they capture a buyer’s or inquirer’s online address, automatically add the name to a list to which they e-mail “quickie” short-term offers. Print can’t compete without spending more money than results usually justify.

So based on timeliness, ease of navigation, and exclusivity, the nod has to go to the Web version. One question: How many who wound up on the Web would have been there had the catalog not given them the address?

A slam-dunk?

The Web has made “free shipping” the most formidable competitive contender within the growing list of what to do and what to avoid.

Add another too-often-overlooked factor: The Web is the natural source of viral marketing. “Forward this offer to a friend” is a single click, whereas forwarding a printed catalog is a nonstarter — and phoning a friend to apprise him or her of a deal in a catalog is an impossible dream.

Where print not only survives but prospers is in what we might call “temporary permanence.” Abandoning an order at time of conclusion is rare in print, common online. And the print catalog can sit staring at us, when the next click can wipe temporary Web glory from our dangling dendrites.

A tip to catalogs that want the print version to survive on its own: Since the venerable “president’s letter” on the inside cover is largely obsolete, dedicate some space to an index and some short-term specials.

And if your Web catalog or a competitor’s Web catalog offers free shipping, bite the bullet — and increase prices a tad, if necessary — to compete on at least moderately even terms.

Herschell Gordon Lewis is the principal of Lewis Enterprises (www.herschellgordonlewis.com) in Pompano Beach, FL, and author of 31 books.