U.S. mailers such as Lands’ End and Talbots that have set their sights on the $9 billion U.K. catalog market are finding stiff competition from British mega-retailer Marks & Spencer (M&S). In April, the 114-year-old M&S, which launched its home furnishings catalog in 1996, introduced the Marks & Spencer Direct apparel catalog. “We researched the idea for a long time,” says M&S spokeswoman Cheryl Kuczynski. “We’re convinced we’ll be successful.”
M&S’s confidence can be attributed to the company’s sterling reputation among British consumers, its database of 4.5 million U.K. consumers, the success of its home catalog-which last year generated $114 million in sales-and the changing image of cataloging among U.K. consumers. Until a few years ago, Kuczynski says, “the catalog business was seen as old-fashioned and a bit on the low end.” Less than five years ago, down-market general merchandise agency books dominated the U.K. catalog industry. But the same factors that spurred catalog growth in the U.S. in the ’80s-more working women, increased credit card usage, and an emphasis on convenience-are now fueling the growth of upscale specialty catalogs in the U.K.
Because the U.S. catalog industry has already learned from its growing pains, M&S hired a U.S. marketing and creative agency, AGA, to assist in the launches of both its titles.
“M&S really wanted to convey its brand image and corporate identity through the catalog while raising the bar and setting a standard for direct mail in the U.K.,” says John Mathewson, president/CEO of New York-based AGA.
Some of the creative changes AGA made to M&S’s home book last year and then transferred to its fashion catalog include better organization of merchandise departments, benefit-laden copy blocks with an emphasis on lifestyle, and icons touting the company’s customer service options, such as wedding services, gift wrapping, timed delivery service, and two-year interest-free credit. “While the previous home catalog was well designed and performing well, it still felt inaccessible, exclusive, and stiff,” Mathewson says. “We needed to stress the ease of ordering and the benefits of shopping M&S through catalogs.”
The British marketer has no plans to mail the catalogs into the U.S. or other countries, but M&S, which also owns apparel cataloger/retailer Brooks Brothers, has expressed interest in bringing Brooks Brothers to the U.K., Kuczynski says.