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Measuring the Benefits of Sales Catalogs

What do Victoria Secret, DELL, Staples, Radio Shack, and Montgomery Ward have in common?
Each of these companies has used the catalog to achieve a dominant position in a competitive marketplace. Each organization has used the catalog in a slightly different manner, but each has achieved the ultimate goals of market-share and profitability. How did they do it?

Several organizations have made the mistake of measuring the effectiveness of a sales catalog by the direct number of sales that come through toll free numbers or other order mechanisms associated with the catalog. Montgomery Ward is an example of a once proud company that failed to measure the effectiveness of the catalog properly, and subsequently suffered the consequences.

Montgomery Ward built an empire around the catalog, using it as a means to communicate with potential consumers in extended geographic regions, and orders from other local store owners. The Montgomery Ward catalog kept the brand name fresh in the hearts and minds of consumers.
The catalog alerted consumers to upcoming sales events, special discounts, and reminded them of purchases associated with changing seasons. Back-to-school, holiday shopping, and lawn maintenance welcomed shoppers with seasonal specials and compelling limited time deals.

Even if the consumers did not take advantage of the seasonal sales event, it reminded them of the items available at Montgomery Ward stores, and thereby reminded them to shop there when the next need should arise.
Unfortunately, Montgomery Ward opted to eliminate the catalog in a rebranding effort. The rebranding effort included shedding the appearance of a general merchant and discount catalog store by canceling the catalog distribution. The focus of the rebranding effort was to develop a reputation as a multi-faceted boutique retailer, offering an assortment of brand names and styles at higher prices.

To underscore a commitment to the company rebranding effort, the company made significant investments to redesign many of the stores. New lights, new carpet, new displays, and new brand name products adorned the redesigned stores, but the public did not come.

Montgomery Ward advertised the grand reopening of the redesigned stores, even as it closed other locations in an effort to reduce overall expense. Unfortunately, while the stores were being remodeled, consumers started searching for other shopping locations, and became accustomed to other retail experiences.

Montgomery Ward did not have a catalog to maintain communication and customer awareness during this transition, and as a result, the stores reopened to thunderous apathy.
The Sales Catalog is more than customer communication. It is also a tremendous tool for the retail sales associates. Radio Shack was once an exceptional example of the catalog as a tool for both consumers and retail sales associates. The catalog was a reference tool for identifying and comparing options.

The catalog was an easy way to search for products, and inevitably be introduced to others. How many remote control toys were sold as a result of searching for electronic components? It is not very likely that an unrelenting demand for remote control toys has been enough to sustain this product line as a staple of the electronics chain of stores, but much more likely that the constant reminder and accessibility has sustained impulse buys for several generations.

Unfortunately, Radio Shack opted to replace the catalog with an efficient online Internet ordering utility. While this online utility greatly simplifies the search and purchase of a specific item, it has also removed the vast quantity of impulse buy options that tempted consumers at home, and in the stores.

The online utility is useful to sales associates in the store to look-up an item, but sales associates are far less likely to spend idle time thumbing through Internet pages to look at products and features than they spent lazily flipping through a catalog on the counter.

If the sales associates are not thumbing through your web site during idle time, then it is even less likely that your consumers are doing it.
Staples is a marvelous case study of a retail sales organization that has learned to maximize the catalog, Internet, and promotional advertisements. Staples sells office equipment. The product from Staples includes paper, pens, staplers, chairs, computers, printers, software, cables, and virtually anything that someone might need to run a business at the home or office.

Students also use staples for supplies. These commodity items are not differentiated product brand names, and for the most part, are readily available from many retail outlets. The differentiation comes not from the brand names, but from the overall execution of the consumer communication, including the use of the catalog.
The retail sales experience at Staples is a dedicated attention to the consumer, using the web utility and the catalog to maximize efficiency.

Staples uses the Internet utility for itemized search and order fulfillment. Store associates frequently use the same application that is available to the general public, as a means to order specific items that may be temporarily sold out, or otherwise out of stock, at the retail location.

The catalog is used for research and comparison. At businesses, schools, government, and home offices, the catalogs arrive on a consistent basis, and are a valuable reference tool. Many business establishments keep the catalog from Staples within easy reach, making the store a constant resource for supplies.

The marketing and promotional messages in newspapers and other local advertisements are a constant reminder at home, just in case you missed the catalog at an office. Staples uses these methods of communication to remain at the forefront of consideration in any event that office supplies are needed.
That was easy.
A manufacturer brand that utilizes the catalog effectively is the very brand that effectively utilized the Internet as a means to dominate personal computing. DELL, often recognized for prowess in leveraging the Internet experience and direct online customer sales model, uses the catalog to effectively maintain relationships and customer loyalty.

With the web interface, DELL allows each consumer to customize the features of a computer, and have it built to individual specifications. The Internet is indeed a powerful utility for DELL, but the interest in features, colors, accessories, and brand is nurtured by an exceptional orchestration of catalog and promotional advertising.

Once purchasing from DELL, it is likely to expect to consistent delivery of catalogs to home or office. Although it is not likely that a consumer will immediately purchase another computer, there is an enticing array of other products to tempt the consumer. The catalog includes printers, extended service plans, carrying cases, and a growing variety of consumer electronic devices.

As new technology refreshes the capabilities of the equipment in the catalog, the consumer is able to keep pace with pricing and features. The lure of accessories and peripheral electronic items is a constant opportunity for additional revenue, and the ability to monitor changing technology enables the consumer to plan the next purchase.

Because DELL is providing the specification, features, colors, and pricing in the catalog, when the consumer does decide that it is time to upgrade the computer again, the planning and expectations have already been established by the options communicated in the catalog.

The catalog becomes the standard by which all other purchases are compared, and the Internet utility makes it easy to complete the customized ordering process. This is a powerful combination.
Any mention of the effective use of catalogs would be incomplete without an acknowledgment to the most recognized and dominant force in catalog history, and that title belongs exclusively to Victoria Secret. The catalog that has launched the careers of many models, set the standard for fashionable lingerie, and maintained a prestigious iconic status in the routines of comedians worldwide.

The mere mention of the Victoria Secret catalog in a comedian's repertoire elicits immediate recognition that the catalog is as anticipated by men, as it is for women. The Victoria Secret catalog has become a statement and lifestyle, far exceeding mere branding of a retail store.
As a result of continuous and exceptional use of the catalog, the product from Victoria Secret is conveys a sense of confident sensuality and romance, regardless if the product is a garment, lotion, candle, or cream. To be listed in the Victoria Secret catalog is more valuable than advertising the factory producing the product.

In this case, the catalog is the brand, and the retail store is an outlet for fulfilling the demand.
Catalogs are not only intended for distribution to facilitate consumer communication, branding, or to create demand. Many automobile manufacturers produce catalogs specifically for the showroom. This method enables a focused distribution, by physically handing a copy of the catalog to visiting consumers.

These catalogs typically include much more detailed information, specifications, lifestyle focused graphics, and an expectation that the recipient of the catalog is already a brand enthusiast. These catalogs are essentially enhanced brochures, and are very effective for the small targeted community that receives them.

Catalogs are not for everyone. Catalogs are effective communication tools for establishing and maintaining a brand, for generating demand, and to nurture relationships with loyal consumers. Catalogs can be highly effective when coordinated with promotional advertising, Internet utilities, retail stores, and consumer registration.

When used effectively and consistently, catalogs empower repeat business and recurring revenue beyond the measurements associated with an immediate direct sale. Creating an alluring catalog is an art form, and formatting a functional one requires organization and planning.
When done properly, the catalog becomes a viral marketing piece that is often handed from person to person, or picked up and perused by potential future consumers, which is something that does not typically occur with electronic catalogs. When considering the strategy for using a catalog, review the examples of the masters in marketing and communication for this media.

Learn from the achievements of Victoria Secret, DELL, and Staples. Then, reflect on your coordinated communication and marketing strategy as a means to identify relevance to your growing base of loyal consumers. Measure the overall impact to your business, not just the limited direct sales, and listen carefully to the feedback of your clients.
Perhaps one day your name will be listed on the catalog walk of fame.

Words of Wisdom
"If you don't find it in the index, look very carefully through the entire catalogue."
- Sears, Roebuck, and Co., Consumer's Guide, 1897
"The key part of your brand is a quality product. Creating exceptional content is the number one thing."
- Rufus Griscom, Building Buzz for your Web Project
"The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate."

- Joseph Priestly

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By cristinecambell
Saturday, 1 Mar 2014

 

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