Live from ECMOD: More Similarities Than Differences

London–Direct marketing in the U.S. is more similar to marketing in the U.K. and the rest of Europe than it is different. That’s the conclusion drawn from a session entitled Multichannel Business of the Future presented Wednesday at the European Catalogue and Mail Order Days here.

Jack Schmid, chairman of Kansas-based consultancy J. Schmid & Associates, kicked off the session with a few statistics regarding online sales growth: 64% of U.S. household are now connected to the Internet, according to Forrester Research, up from 25% five years ago. With the rise of e-commerce and multichannel shopping have come increased expectations on the part of buyers, he said: Nearly three-quarters of customers surveyed expect the companies they shop from to know about their behavior in all channels. In other words, if a customer phones a call center, he expects the CSR to know what he’d previously purchased from the company’s stores or Website as well as via phone.

E-commerce’s no longer being a novelty has brought one positive change, Schmid added: Price is decreasing as an online sales driver. Of course, that means branding must be consistent and service seamless across all channels.

Just as e-commerce accounts for roughly 4% of U.S. retail sales, it represents 4%-19% of sales in Europe, varying by country, according to Aad Weening, secretary general of the European Mail Order and Distance Selling Trade Association (EMOTA) in Brussels. Household Web access varies as well. Sweden boasts the highest penetration, with 75%, followed by the Netherlands. The U.K. and Germany trail the U.S. slightly.

In terms of direct marketing expenditures per capita, Germany tops the list, with an average of 258 euros per capita. The U.K. is close behind, followed by Norway, Switzerland, and Finland. Hungary had the lowest direct marketing purchases per capita, followed by Italy and Spain. Differing postal reliability and laws are among the reasons for the variances.

One area in which Europeans are far in advance of Americans is with mobile, or cell, phone penetration. In the U.S., more consumers have Web access than cell phones; in Europe the opposite is the rule. For this reason, in Europe “mobile phones currently are an added means of getting close to the consumer,” Weening said.

Alan White, chief executive of British multititle mailer N Brown Group, agreed. He advocated the use of mobile phones to send customers alerts such as “Our new catalog is online” to drive them to the Website.

White also said that, as in the U.S., the larger, general merchandise marketers are “having a bit of a tough time”–particularly the agency catalogs that used to rely heavily on credit as a means of customer acquisition. Upmarket and niche companies are growth areas in the U.K.–again similar to the situation Stateside.

And while White said that in the U.K. online shopping has been growing 19 times faster than retail, he also noted that 60% of the leading British retailers don’t have transactional Websites, and another 20% don’t have Websites at all. For N Brown’s part, the company simultaneously launched 17 sites in April 2001, with the goal of having 8% of sales come from the Web within three years. Already 7.5% of sales are generated online, with some of the company’s brands generating as much as 26% of their revenue via the Web.

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