Electronic Catalog: Using E-mail to Spur Print Orders

Sundance sends e-mails to about 25% of its customers before its print catalog drops.

Sending customers an e-mail alerting them that the catalog is in the mail can boost response

Want to boost your catalog response rates? Let your customers know via e-mail that your catalog is in the mail. That’s the tack some catalogers, including J. Jill, Sundance, and Ross-Simons, have taken to increase response. The catalogers e-mail their opt-in house file names to give them a heads-up that a new catalog will soon arrive in their mailboxes.

While none of the catalogers Catalog Age spoke to break out the catalog sales driven by this type of promotion, several sources say that print-catalog response rates are higher among the e-mail recipients. Another bonus: E-mail promotions for the print catalog tend to boost Website traffic.

“We’ve been promoting our print catalog by e-mail since July of last year,” says Corey Davis, Internet marketing manager for Salt Lake City, UT-based home decor, apparel, and jewelry cataloger Sundance. “We usually promote the catalog right around the time it drops.” The company, which has circulation of 400,000-500,000, generally sends e-mails to its 100,000 opt-in house file names.

Cranston, RI-based jewelry and gifts cataloger/retailer Ross-Simons began promoting its catalog to customers by e-mail in February 2000. “We don’t send e-mails for every book that drops,” says Internet director Anne Driscoll. “Doing that would overwhelm our customers and our click-through rates of 20%-28% wouldn’t be as good as they are.” Instead, the company e-mails its opt-in house file names promotions only at select times of the year. “For example, we’ll send our customers an e-mail the day the spring/summer book, fall preview, or holiday book has dropped,” Driscoll says.

According to Geoff Smith, director of client programs for Palo Alto, CA-based e-mail services provider ClickAction, the average cost of sending e-mails among its clients is $0.01-$0.02 per message for text and $0.02-$0.03 per message for HTML, depending on the cataloger’s contract and average monthly volumes. Though HTML costs more, HTML messages could have a greater appeal to customers, he notes. “Sending an e-mail with a picture of the catalog cover in it reinforces your brand, aids in product recall at their mailbox, and pushes people online,” Smith says.

Ross-Simons offers customers more than just a notice that the new catalog is in the mail. “Our e-mail notification of the print catalog mailing is what we call a Preview Pass, which invites customers to the Website to view a digitized version of the new catalog before it hits their mailbox,” Driscoll says.

The Preview Pass enables recipients to browse and shop from the entire catalog edition online. Prior to sending the Preview Pass, Ross-Simons e-mails its customers a VIP Preview Pass, which Driscoll describes as “an invitation for our customers to browse and purchase from a selection of 40-60 new items that are going to be in a catalog that will drop within two weeks of the e-mail.”

Some mailers say tracking the success of promotional e-mails for the print catalog is challenging. “It’s difficult to do unless you provide a promotional code in the e-mail that encourages the customer to place a catalog order using that code to receive a discount on a purchase,” says Sundance’s Davis, who adds that Sundance has yet to try this method. The cataloger could compare the list of its recent catalog buyers to the names on a recent e-mail list, “but we would have no way of knowing if those customers would have purchased from the catalog if they hadn’t received an e-mail.”

In addition to the difficulty catalogers have tracking catalog response rates to e-mail promotions, many mailers have yet to promote their books by e-mail because their back-ends aren’t integrated with their front-ends, according to catalog consultant Amy Africa, president of Williston, VT-based Creative Results. “In some cases, the people who handle the Web marketing for a catalog aren’t familiar with the circulation plan for the catalog.”

Africa is a big proponent of integrated marketing strategies, in large part because they can make it easier for catalogers to evaluate the success of their promotions. “Most catalogers look at their promotions from book to book and not over the long term, which is what they should be doing,” she says. “So they see a boost in catalog sales one month as a result of an e-mail promotion, but they don’t measure how the promotion might affect them during the next year or 18 months.”

Few fear cannibalization

Another reason Africa favors an integrated marketing strategy is that “without it, catalogers risk cannibalization.” But for many catalogers, response in any channel is the ultimate goal, so few profess to be concerned about cannibalization.

“We don’t feel that there is a drawback to pushing one channel in another, such as promoting the catalog by e-mail, which could in turn generate Web sales,” Ross-Simons’s Driscoll says. And promoting the catalog by e-mail costs less than contacting customers via telemarketing or direct mail, she adds.

“However the customer buys doesn’t matter to us,” agrees Davis. “Whenever you provide a new avenue for customers to reach you, it only increases the value of those customers. The customer who spends $50 a year in the catalog might now spend an additional $25 on the Internet.”

Other marketers plan to begin promoting their print books via e-mail. Williston, VT-based House-Mouse Designs, a cataloger of mouse-themed greeting cards and gifts, plans to implement an e-mail program later this year, says co-owner/cofounder Barry Percy. “We might send e-mails to about 10,000 of our customers for whom we have e-mail addresses, and give them a promotional offer.”

House-Mouse Designs, which has an annual circulation of 100,000 and annual sales of less than $10 million, hopes an e-mail promotion of the print catalog “will drive traffic to our catalog and our Website,” Percy says.

E-commerce Management Software Roundup

This month Catalog Age looks at five recently introduced e-commerce programs. Catalog consultant Robin Lebo, president of Charlottesville, VA-based Lebo Direct, weighs in on how well these products relate to the needs of marketers.

COMPANY: 360Commerce
PRODUCT: ExtendYourStore Point-of-Sale (POS) Release 4.0
DESCRIPTION: Software that enables online marketers to accept multiple forms of payment, including gift cards, debit cards, Canadian dollars, traveler’s checks, and manufacturer’s coupons. The 4.0 version also enables catalogers to extend preferred customer discounts based on date, length of promotion, and percentage criteria.
COST: Varies per client; company would not disclose base price.
LEBO SAYS: “I’m not sure how it can support paper [currency] so that catalogers can accept Canadian cash and traveler’s checks. If customers need to enter a code from their traveler’s checks, that creates a chance for people to lift the code numbers and trade them, unless the software has an internal function that prevents fraud.”

COMPANY: Accrue Software
PRODUCT: Accrue G2
DESCRIPTION: Analytics software that helps catalogers convert a variety of data into business metrics for measuring Website commerce, marketing, and customer-retention programs. According to Accrue, the program lets catalogers immediately assess customer behavior and take rapid action to increase site effectiveness.
COST: Unavailable
LEBO SAYS: “This sounds like the database software that many catalogers already use, though it may be helpful in measuring where online customers are coming from.”

PRODUCT: Lyris MailEngine
DESCRIPTION: An e-mail system that sends or relays up to 150,000 messages an hour from a single server, depending on the hardware and Net connection used. Allows catalogers to schedule mailings in advance and limit outgoing messages to avoid overwhelming bandwidth; also supports many platforms, including Windows 95/98/ME/NT/2000, Solaris, Linux and FreeBSD.
COST: Varies based on number of messages sent per hour, from $500 for 20,000 per hour to $100,000 for 10 million per hour.
LEBO SAYS: “A $0.02-$0.025 charge to send e-mail to customers from your desktop is great for small catalogers sending, say, 20,000 e-mails an hour, since using larger vendors can cost as much as $0.04-$0.05 an e-mail.

DESCRIPTION: Data-protection software that provides automated backup and recovery. Supports a variety of computers, operating systems, and storage devices, and is scalable from a simple network to a complex system. Arkeia keeps a full record of all data and metadata managed by the system and can recover data in case of a backup server failure.
COST: A free version is available for use with one Linux server and two client machines under Linux, Windows 96/98 or Windows NT for Workstations. Other configurations cost about $1,200.
LEBO SAYS: “If you’re a start-up, this might be a good program. But usually backup is the first thing companies get.”

COMPANY: Visual Insights
PRODUCT: eBizinsights XL
DESCRIPTION: An application that allows companies to evaluate their Website performance and activity, visitor behavior, and promotional effectiveness. Uses the company’s Visual Path Analysis software, which gives merchants a graphical interface to see the paths taken by visitors through their Websites. Catalogers can view common paths, popular entry and exit pages, and page flows and referrals.
COST: From $9,995 to $189,000.
LEBO SAYS: “This can be a robust program for catalogers if it shows quantitative data, such as where customers are coming from, how much time they are spending on a site, and what keywords they are using.”

Did you miss a previous Electronic Catalog article?

You can find it — along with other articles from past issues — on the Catalog Age Website at www.CatalogAgemag.com

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