Art.com to Launch Catalog as New Sales Channel

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Continuing to strengthen its focus on home décor, Art.com Inc. will open another sales channel with the imminent launch of its first catalog timed for the holiday season.


A companion to the Web site at www.art.com, the 24-page catalog is in line with the latest offline ploys by lucy.com, RedEnvelope.com, Garden.com, Tavolo.com and other online retailers that are not reaching their target audiences solely via the Internet.


"I think the catalog will help people make more buying decisions," said Michael Kahn, vice president of marketing at Art.com. "At the end of the day, being an e-tailer is, in essence, being a direct marketer. Print is an opportunity. You can really use it as a vehicle to sell product, to help sell the Web site."


Art.com's foray into print has two factors to bank on. First, the catalog shopper and online shopper share the same preference for long-distance buying. Also, as remote-selling media, the catalog and Web site basically can share the same back-end and fulfillment infrastructure without additional expense.


For this effort, the Lake Forest, IL, online retailer of art prints will spend $300,000 on its holiday gift and decorating guide, a catalog aimed at women with a propensity to spend money on home decorating.


Art.com will mail 300,000 catalogs in drops scheduled for Oct. 15 and mid-November.


The retailer will rent lists of women customers who shop at Art.com's 30,000 affiliate partners and those between ages 25 and 49 who shop by catalog or online for home décor. Castro-McMahon, a Chicago direct response firm, handles Art.com's mailing details.


According to direct marketing industry estimates, nearly 80 percent of catalog sales take place within 40 days of the drop.


"We have big numbers to make for the fourth quarter," Kahn said. "We think this is all part of getting there. That said, we would hope to get a 1 percent to 2 percent response [to the catalog]."


An outsourced call center will soon support the company's 10-member internal staff that handles the toll-free lines. The two call centers will work different hours.


Kahn is tightlipped about Art.com's financials. The site disclosed only first-quarter data for Getty Images Inc., Art.com's Seattle-based parent. A provider of images and recorded film, Getty's sales in the first quarter were $104.8 million, of which $31.5 million was from e-commerce. This includes organic growth as well as help from acquisitions.


Founded in 1998, Art.com claims leadership of the online market for framed and unframed prints. Besides prints, the company sells photographs, limited editions and animations. It also has a special relationship with House & Garden Magazine that highlights its emphasis on home décor.


The holiday catalog is the first in a series of books planned by the retailer. Other catalogs will focus on spring and fall decorating, gift-specific and Mother's Day. An office-specific catalog is also in the pipeline.


"We're doing this because Art.com is a completely visual medium and we want to give people more content as to what they can buy from us," Kahn said.


An ad campaign by Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, will push the Art.com brand in five major markets during November and December. The media plan calls for offline and mass media, plus e-mails and direct marketing.


Simultaneously, Art.com expects support from existing relationships with AOL and Yahoo, in addition to promotions and public relations.


A key challenge for an online retailer of highly visual products such as Art.com is finding people who like art prints, converting them to buyers and then convincing them to increase their frequency of purchase. It does not help that this category has a high touch-and-feel component.


"And the other thing is, at the end of the day, while everyone loves buying art, it's a considered purchase, it's not a priority purchase," Kahn said. "If you're in a room and your walls are blank and you have no lamp, we know what you're going to buy first.


"So we're going to have to figure out ways to make our offering more exciting because, at the end of the day, people don't have to buy it as a product. It's a discretionary purchase."
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