Catalog Quick-Ordering a Mixed Bag for Shoppers

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Catalogers are adding quick-order functions to their Web sites in an effort to make it easy for customers to shop online.


Quick-order features are aimed at catalog shoppers. A catalog recipient can input online the ID number of a product sold in a print catalog and be taken directly to an order form filled out with a product's description and its price.


Home furnishing and window treatment merchant HomeVisions added the quick-order function to its site three months ago.


"We received lots of e-mail requesting that function, but once we put it in, it hasn't significantly impacted the number of orders on the system," said Mike Bibbey, director of electronic commerce at Direct Marketing Services Inc., Chicago, which produces the HomeVisions catalog and its 8-month-old Web site, www.HomeVisions.com.


Of print catalog recipients who make purchases online, 25 percent fill out the quick-order form, according to Bibbey.


One reason why customers may not be using the quick-order function on HomeVisions' site is that the types of purchases made there -- unlike books or music -- tend to be more involved, according to Lauren Freedman, president of e-commerce consulting firm The E-Tailing Group.


"I don't think it's as relevant for their category, so even though the customer was accustomed to using it in other sites, it may not have as much value in this type of category," Freedman said.


Fifty-four percent of 50 online retailers polled in the second quarter by The E-Tailing Group have a quick-order function.


While the e-commerce consulting firm conducts quarterly studies, this was the first time the company asked e-tailers about the presence of quick-order shopping on their sites.


Even though HomeVisions' customers have not entirely embraced the service, Mike Wychocki, executive vice president at direct and Internet marketing services firm the Haggin Group, San Francisco, said he thinks consumers do value this type of feature because the Internet -- unlike the print catalog -- is not an ideal venue for browsing. Customers can browse through their print catalogs and then purchase online, bypassing a call to a customer service representative.


"Everybody sees this as one of the most crucial components of their Web site right now," Wychocki said.


Indeed, home decor and gift cataloger Chiasso, Chicago, thinks that adding the feature is a good way to entice catalog recipients to buy online.


"If you're a catalog buyer because of convenience, that feature is necessary in order to make the use of the Web site as convenient as using an 800 number," said Tony Ciavola, vice president and director of e-commerce at Chiasso. However, he said, a quick-order feature must be offered on the site's home page to be successful.


Roughly half of Chiasso's catalog recipients who purchase online use the item-order feature, Ciavola said.


While some people want to browse online, others come to the site just to place an order, so an online merchant should aim to keep the clicks to a minimum, Ciavola said.


Chiasso has experienced success with its item-number order feature, according to Ciavola. The company has offered item ordering on its site since it launched in September 1999.


Chiasso's quick-buy order form differs from HomeVisions' in that Chiasso customers can view the product they are buying before they complete their order.


Ciavola said the company experiences a spike in orders placed online during any one of its seven catalog drops per year. Of the orders placed on www.chiasso.com during a catalog drop, Ciavola estimated that 25 percent to 35 percent of the orders are placed by item number. Chiasso mails 3.2 million catalogs per year.


Last month, candle marketer Illuminations, Petaluma, CA, revamped the check-out function on its 2-year-old Web site in an effort to make it easier for customers to shop online, including the addition of a quick-order function called swift shopping. The company has not determined yet how many customers use the function, according to Lanya Havas, Illuminations' e-commerce manager.
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