Don’t Try To Convert Web Buyers

Since the U.S. Postal Service’s brutal postal increase was announced earlier this year, the knee-jerk reaction of many multichannel merchants has been to cut back on catalog prospecting and take a gamble on aggressive e-mail, affiliate, and search engine marketing.

But if they think they can turn Web customers into catalog buyers, they may be making a critical mistake.

Online buyers coming from pure Web traffic, affiliate programs, paid or natural search, or price comparison engines will prove less responsive to frequent buyer remails. And a large portion of your Web buyers won’t be responsive to catalogs at all.

So if your plan is to replace catalog prospecting with online prospecting with the hope of building a stronger house file to mail to, reconsider your strategy.

The universe of profitable prospecting circulation is well tested for most catalogers. How much prospecting circulation a catalog has that responded above breakeven is a metric that most mailers know in detail.

But the Web prospecting universe is typically a more difficult universe to measure. It’s harder to know the sales and cost for prospecting using the Web. The acquisition cost of online buyers must be compared to traditional prospecting costs, and it’s not easy to predict the cost of getting a buyer through the Internet.

Web buyers may also be responsive to the brand or the price or their pressing need for a product and may not be interested in your catalog. And if they are buying from an affiliate program, the buyer may not even know what merchant the order is being placed with until the order is delivered.

Make sure you flag your Web buyers at their origin so you can the difference between only buyers acquired via the Web and online buyers who responded to a catalog that you mailed. Once you do that, you should be able to build an effective Web campaign and strengthen your entire house file.

Jim Coogan is president of Santa Fe, NM-based catalog consultancy Catalog Marketing Economics.

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