Lists and Prospecting: Making Retail Buyers Mail Order Prospects

As more catalogers expand into the retail channel, they’re adding the names of store buyers to their house files. But converting those retail customers into catalog buyers has its challenges.

In terms of responsiveness, Charlie Silver, vice president of marketing for the New York-based Bloomingdale’s catalog unit of Federated Department Stores, considers Bloomingdale’s retail shopper names on a par with outside mail order lists it rents.

And Dennis Bissig, group vice president for Hackensack, NJ-based list firm Mokrynski & Associates, says that in comparison to proven mail order buyers from outside lists, retail names are about 70%-80% as responsive to catalog offers from the stores in which they’ve shopped.

Some retailers with catalog businesses make a point of mailing books to retail customers who reside within a 10- or 15-mile radius of their stores. Even if those store customers don’t convert to mail order buyers, the catalogs serve as store traffic drivers.

“Our catalogs are marketing tools for our stores,” says Margery Myers, spokesperson for apparel cataloger/retailer The Talbots. The Hingham, MA-based company uses store proximity to determine which retail customers will be mailed catalogs.

Myers notes that 70% of Talbots’ store customers who receive catalogs “say they are prompted to visit the store because of the catalog. Our store customers often use the catalog to ‘pre-shop’ a store, and it’s quite common for customers to come into the store with a dog-eared catalog, looking to try on the items they’ve seen in it.”

Other multichannel marketers mail only to retail buyers who live outside of that radius, to give them a chance to buy through the mail if they can’t get to the stores often.

And some cataloger/retailers, such as Manchester, VT-based outdoor gear and apparel marketer Orvis, don’t worry much about the retail customers’ location. “We’ll generally mail at least one time to them,” says vice president of marketing Joe Cassidy. “Then we won’t send another book unless they respond.” He estimates that 30%-50% of Orvis retail customers have also ordered via catalog.

Sprucing up retail names

Bloomingdale’s collects the same sort of data from its retail customers as it does from its direct buyers. “We have customer purchase information, such as how recently customers made a store purchase, how many dollars they spent, product categories they bought from, etc.,” Silver says.

Bloomingdale’s uses the data to target the best prospects among the retail buyers. Because the catalog offerings are more limited than the retail selection, the company relies largely on product affinity data. “For instance, we’ll mail our ready-to-wear catalog to store customers who’ve bought apparel, and our home goods catalog to those who’ve bought home goods,” Silver says.

And while the Bloomingdale’s by Mail catalog targets consumers ages 30-60, “we know certain store categories are for younger customers,” Silver continues, “so we don’t mail catalogs to them because our catalog doesn’t have appropriate merchandise.”

Bloomingdale’s also matches its retail buyer file against the Abacus co-op database file as part of the merge/purge process. “When the names hit up against an outside mail order list,” Silver says, “that’s usually a good sign they’ll be mail responsive.”

Blurring the channels

In the true spirit of multichannel marketing, you might not particularly care if a catalog drives a consumer to pick up the phone or to head to a store, so long as the shopper makes a purchase from your company. For that reason, catalogs “absolutely should be used to support both retail, catalog, and online sales even if much of these sales can’t be attributed back to the catalog expense,” says Bill McKay, senior vice president, list brokerage and management, for Greenwich, CT-based list firm Direct Media’s Walnut Creek, CA, office.

Gauging a catalog’s effectiveness in building store sales vs. direct sales, however, can be tricky. “In the same way that online sales spike after a postal mailing, marketers similarly grapple with how to measure the retail traffic generated by catalogs mailed near their stores,” McKay says.

One way that may help you determine a catalog’s effectiveness in generating store traffic, McKay says, is to place store-redeemable coupons in the catalogs. “This enables you to measure the link between catalog and retail.”

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