Live from the ACC: The Pros Speak, Part II

Chicago–In each issue of the Annual Catalog Conference Show Daily, we’ll present opinions of a panel of experts on myriad challenges facing mailers today. Yesterday, we asked our panel of experts how they see the industry dealing with ever-increasing postal rates. In today’s installment, they’re discussing the Internet as a complementary marketing channel.

Our panel of pros: Reggis Brady, president of Reggie Brady Marketing Solutions; Steve Jones, vice president of marketing for multititle mailer Norm Thompson Outfitters; George Kiebala, vice president/senior account executive, Experian; and Allen Rosenberg, executive vice president, Marke Communications.

Q. How do you see the Internet evolving, and how will the whole multichannel marketing approach pan out for catalogers?

Brady: Many catalogers are showing that e-commerce sales now represent more than 20% of revenue. This doesn’t mean that print catalogs are dead, though, because most catalogers can source much of their online sales to postal delivery of catalogs. But Web-enabled ordering reduces order-taking costs, and regular e-mails are generating revenue opportunities.

Several firms have sprung up that convert print catalogs into Web-accessible e-catalogs (Mobular, P2ionline, iCatalog) Shoppers still like the familiar, intuitive, comfortable, and pleasurable armchair experience of a print catalog. The experience for the online shopper is the same as flipping the pages of a catalog.

Catalog portals also provide opportunities for increased reach and revenue. And virtually every catalog has launched an e-mail promotion strategy. Most have done a good job of branding their e-mails so that they complement the look and feel of print materials and the Website design. Those who are best of breed are allowing customers to self-segment in terms of how often they would like to receive e-mails and what product they are interested in.

Jones: The Internet provides tremendous opportunities to enhance the customer experience. It’s the ultimate in convenience for the consumer. Anytime you satisfy the customer, you’re going to satisfy the merchant. Internet sites are now surpassing the traditional call center in terms of the features and functionality they can offer. The key to the future of the Internet is being smart about understanding how your channels work together. While you have several channels, it’s still one company and one brand, and your customer needs to have a consistent experience across your channels. Companies that organize themselves around their brands, vs. their channels, will be the long-term winners.

Kiebala: The same scenario was evident 10 or 12 years ago with retail stores perceived as affecting catalog circulation and vice versa. The Internet is both an ordering medium and another way of developing or continuing customer relationships. If you communicate effectively with customers in the channels they choose to be communicated with, your high-value customers will remain interested. There is no doubt that the need among catalogers for an effective multichannel strategy will only increase.

Rosenberg: Direct marketers are still on a learning curve when it comes to converting Internet visitors to buyers. Many of our clients find that Internet customers are using the catalog to place Internet orders. Direct marketers are using catalogs to drive customers to their Websites and are sending a printed catalog along with Internet orders.

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