A collective assessment

Putting itself on the line for a critique this month is Worldwide Collectibles & Gifts, a Berwyn, PA-based mailer of Hummel figurines, Limoges porcelain boxes, gourmet gift baskets, and home furnishings. Experts Mark Gilchrist, president of Rye, NY-based design agency Bulldog Studios, and Bill Lacata, president of LCH Direct, a North Reading, MA-based catalog consultancy, reviewed the Holiday 2004 edition of Worldwide Collectibles & Gifts.

MARK GILCHRIST

Worldwide Collectibles & Gifts features well-known and respected collectibles from around the world — but the ill-proportioned silhouette shots of a few ornaments and figurines that appear on the front cover don’t convey the passion and excitement that collectors feel toward their hobby. Also, the entertainment armoire in the center of the cover page seems out of place surrounded by the “floating” figurines.

Inside the book, the president’s letter on page 2 introduces the cataloger’s new home decor section (and separate catalog). Now the appearance of the armoire on the cover makes more sense. But the cover’s creative execution diminishes the importance of the collectibles sold inside.

I would suggest for the cover a beautifully lit closeup of a tabletop scene featuring several figurines from different collections, with captions listing page numbers and the figurines’ respective lines. Only after impressing upon the customer the catalog’s main reason for being — that it sells collectibles — would I show, with copy and an inset photo perhaps, that noncollectibles are also being offered for the first time.

I would also play up the catalog’s tagline (“Rated most diversified source of fine collectibles in the U.S. for over 30 years”). The tagline now runs along the spine in small type and is all but thrown away.

When I open the catalog, on page 3 what do I see but…cake. Again, page 2 explains that gourmet foods/gift baskets is another new section and that I can send away for Worldwide’s gourmet food catalog. I’m all for cross-selling and showing a mix of products on the opening spread, but I would not devote an entire page to promoting a line so far from the catalog’s main focus. Since there are many new categories being introduced — six are mentioned in the president’s letter — I would devote a third of a page to a “What’s New” section, showcasing an item from each new category. This way the new categories receive their own special treatment, but the bread-and-butter of the catalog still takes precedence.

As for copy, there virtually isn’t any, except within the gift basket and home decor sections. This is a problem, as copy helps reveal a catalog’s personality and lets customers know why they should spend their valuable time perusing the book. For instance, what exciting adventures did the merchants encounter while searching for the world’s finest collectibles? Why should customers buy from Worldwide instead of going elsewhere? Let the introductory letter make customers feel as if they’re embarking on an adventure, courtesy of your catalog. But don’t hide it at the bottom of page 2 in small type. Customers shouldn’t have to work at finding out what makes you special.

When it comes to packing catalog products on a page, you can have too much of a good thing. The product density inside the book is overwhelming, making it difficult for readers to distinguish one collectible from the next — and to find the corresponding SKU number for each.

The density also makes all the spreads look the same and eliminates any room for copy. I think Worldwide should delete some of the products from the catalog and direct customers to its Website to see the full line. This would free up enough space to allow for hero products on at least every other spread and for intro copy for each family of products. Playing up the intro copy also lets the cataloger come across as the expert on collectibles.

While we’re at it, the catalog should play up its guarantee and customer service, and display its ordering number more prominently. I’d also suggest sprinkling the book with testimonials from satisfied customers. As mentioned before, collectors are passionate — so let them do the selling!

BILL LICATA

Worldwide Collectibles & Gifts sells an extensive selection of quality, branded collectibles with strong consumer appeal, as well as smaller selections of gourmet foods and home decor. Due to the popularity of the merchandise, Worldwide Collectibles & Gifts is a catalog with lots of potential.

We suspect, however, that it is underperforming due to lapses in the creative execution. The merchandise is well known and premium priced, but the presentation says anything but quality. For maximum effectiveness, the look and feel of the catalog should reflect the merchandise sold.

The gourmet foods and home decor items appear out of place in this catalog. They take up valuable real estate that could be devoted to improving the presentation of the collectibles. We recommend deleting them but adding to page 2 a promotion for the company’s home decor catalog and gourmet food brochure that would get more notice than the current mention in the president’s letter.

The company name is prominent on the front cover, and the display of products gives us an idea of what we’ll find inside. But the product mix and the lack of scale are confusing. We initially thought the armoire featured on the cover was only a few inches high when in reality it is a full-size entertainment center priced at $1,375!

A much more effective cover would have been a large presentation of one or two figurines or the company’s best-selling Nativity sets. Displaying on the cover at least some of the brands would also help draw the shopper inside. The tagline, “Rated most diversified source of fine collectibles in the U.S. for over 30 years,” which runs along the catalog spine could be rewritten to emphasize a customer benefit and repositioned either on the cover under the company name, where it is more likely to be seen, or on page 2 as an introduction explaining why the shopper should explore the catalog further.

The catalog is well organized by brand, but the marketing philosophy appears to be, If we build it, they will come. The book is more a listing of products and prices than a selling vehicle. The pages are extremely dense with tiny product images. The Swarovski silver crystal figurines sold on one spread require a microscope to see. Even a $4,900 Nativity set consisting of 16 Hummel pieces plus stable is given only 15 sq. in.

We recommend relegating many of the poorer selling items to the Website and using that catalog space, as well as the space gained by deleting the gourmet foods and home decor, to better display the remaining products. Worldwide Collectibles & Gifts should use its merchandise sales statistics to select hero products to feature throughout. Then the company could vary the product density from spread to spread to add interest that would draw the shopper deeper into the catalog.

The photography — especially of the crystal products — needs help. For instance, a selection of Waterford crystal tabletop items on one page looks like silver plate. Crystal figurines from the Disney Showcase Collection are photographed no better: At first glance, I thought the Cinderella slipper was a frog.

While it is true that a catalog is a visual medium, copy does close the sale. The idea is to attract the customer with eye-stopping images and to close the sale with dynamic copy. Copy in this catalog is almost nonexistent. If there are too many products to add specific copy for each, at least describe the brands and the featured products.

The merchandise offered by Worldwide Collectibles & Gifts has a ready market. The company should seize the opportunity to remake the catalog into one that grabs the shopper’s attention with attractive imagery, interesting layouts, and informative copy.

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