The Web requester database edge

Catalogers, like many other types of businesses today, are flocking to the Web, lured by the relatively low cost of entry for this new distribution channel, as well as its revenue potential. But they are also reaping another benefit: The Internet has proved for many to be an exciting avenue for database-building.

“We’ve been having great success acquiring names online and mailing them catalogs,” says Harry Rosenthal, president of West Valley City, UT-based Sundance, a cataloger of Southwestern gifts and home goods. The conversion rate is better than what Sundance gets from rented lists, Rosenthal says, because Website requesters are prequalified. “When they sign up to get the catalog, they’ve already seen who you are.”

Visitors to the Sundance Website still prefer buying from a catalog to shopping through the Web, Rosenthal has found, but “over time, as the quality of information delivery over the Web improves, I believe that fewer people will request a print catalog and more will buy off the Website.” Sundance.com receives a few thousand catalog requests per month.

Nancy Chhahira, director of direct marketing for New York-based leather goods marketer Coach, also sings the praises of the Web for database-building. “My assumption is that anyone who takes the time and effort to seek out Coach on the Web has a sincere interest in the products, rather than a casual interest.” As with Sundance, Coach’s Website catalog requesters convert better than its mailed prospects.

“In a sense,” Chhahira explains, “our Website serves as a teaser. There isn’t an order function on the site, and the products are displayed without pricing, so if people get excited and want more information, the catalog is the place to go. People who call the toll-free number [to order a catalog] aren’t looking at anything, so the excitement factor is missing.” Even without ads for the site, Coach.com averages 20,000 unique visitors a month. Plans are in the works to begin printing the Website address on catalogs and print media.

There’s always the exception Success levels do vary according to expectations and types of audience. For instance, Chicago-based Hammacher Schlemmer’s conversion rates from Web-based requests aren’t yet meeting projections, according to Dan Fagan, circulation manager for the upscale gifts cataloger/retailer. ‘Net surfers who visit the Hammacher Schlemmer site prefer purchasing online to shopping from the print catalog, he says. “We’re pulling people off the Web who have shown a behavior pattern only in electronic media, and we’re trying to convert them to print.”

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