DEMOGRAPHICS: Know thy buyer – Customer profiles differ by medium

Oct 01, 1999 9:30 PM  By

Catalogers pride themselves on knowing the demographics and spending habits of their typical customers. But some marketers with online as well as print versions of their catalogs are discovering that they have two distinctly different “average” customers – one for each medium.

For instance, the typical print catalog customer of Dean & Deluca, a New York-based gourmet food cataloger/retailer, is primarily an affluent, middle-age female. The company’s average online buyer, however, tends to be younger and predominately male, according to senior vice president Duminda DeSilva.

Dean & Deluca plans to retain and expand this younger audience with an online and offline advertising campaign, an affiliate program with related gourmet and cooking Websites (scheduled to launch in October), and an e-mail newsletter.

The differences in age and gender between Dean & Deluca’s print and online buyers mimics differences between print and online shoppers at large. According to Catalog Age’s 1999 Consumer Catalog Shopping Survey, the typical print catalog buyer is a woman in her mid to late 40s. Online market research firm Bizrate.com notes that the typical online buyer is a 41-year-old male – though women are quickly catching up to men in terms of Internet usage.

As for average order sizes and conversion rates, Dean & Deluca’s are slightly lower on the Web than in the catalog, DeSilva says, but they are starting to equalize. (The company’s average order for the print catalog is $90, according to its list data card.) Dean & Deluca’s Web orders may be lower because its online customers favor lower-ticket items such as spices and cookbooks.

But just the opposite has been the case among IGo Corp.’s online buyers. The Reno, NV-based cataloger of mobile products and accessories (formerly known as 1-800-Batteries) says that online buyers typically purchase more items per order than print customers, says founder/”chief energizing officer” Ken Hawk.

Although he won’t disclose average order figures, Hawk credits the larger online order sizes to the Web catalog’s lack of space restrictions. “We’re not able to show many related items in the print catalog because of space and timing. Instead we try to show a broad range of products in print,” Hawk says. “But the Web allows us to offer more products on a model-specific basis, which is the bulk of our business, and allows us to better customize offerings.” For example, an online customer seeking a power adaptor for a specific model of a laptop computer may also see a hard drive upgrade package and other accessories for use with that model.

Another factor, Hawk contends, is that IGo’s Website attracts customers who are more educated and have higher incomes than its print buyers. For instance, more than 30% of the firm’s online buyers have a graduate school degree, compared to 23% of its print customers. Again, IGo’s experience regarding the average incomes of its print and online customers seems to reflect the market at large: According to Catalog Age’s 1999 Consumer Catalog Shopping Survey, the typical print buyer has a $43,000 household income, but Bizrate.com estimates the average household income of online shoppers to be $76,000.

Narrowing the gap

But as more consumers gain access to the Web and as the acceptance of online shopping increases, the demographics of the online shopper are expected to more closely resemble those of print buyers. For instance, Bizrate.com has already identified a high percentage of first-time online buyers as women with lower average incomes than their male counterparts.

As a result, most catalogers agree that tailoring your Website primarily for one type of buyer and targeting your print book largely for another customer profile is short-sighted at best. “Soon there won’t be a catalog-only customer or an Internet-only customer, but instead a combination customer,” says Dennis Waldera, vice president of direct marketing at telephony products cataloger Hello Direct. “The challenge is learning how to optimize the mix of all channels.”

And many catalogers haven’t seen a distinct difference between their print and online buyers, because the same customers alternate between the shopping channels. “Our relationship is not with the medium, but with the customer,” says Daniel Lally, director of public relations at home goods and gifts catalog Frontgate. “The Website just gives customers another way to do business with us.”

Like Frontgate, automotive parts and accessories cataloger Performance Products has discovered that its online and offline customers have similar average order sizes and other traits, says chairman Mel Kay, although he declines to disclose figures. “We’re either attracting the same market via the Web, or we’re seeing our print customers opt for the online medium.”