Creating Catalog Boutiques: Online and OfflineYou're familiar with targeted specialty catalogs such as Lillian Vernon's personalized gifts catalog or LL Bean's kid's catalog. These are simply a subset of the general merchandise, representing a major customer segment. By creating separate catalogs, the retailer can target not only the merchandise of most interest but also include relevant content. Of course, this both increases short-term sales and strengthens the overall relationship with the customer.
A catalog boutique is simply the next level down from a specialty catalog. A strong merchandise grouping exists that lends itself to separate branding and content, but does not warrant the investment in separate catalogs or the creation of a major Web segment. In creating a boutique, you are essentially creating a shop within a shop.
When should you create one? A catalog or online boutique is called for when all of the following are true:
• One of your competitors is a specialty shop that specializes in this merchandise. For example, if you are a toy retailer, you might want to create a learning boutique to compete with specialty catalogers focused on motivational toys. If you are a grocer who produces holiday food catalogs, you might want to create a gourmet foods boutique to compete with the influx of gourmet food shops. Essentially, the boutique allows you to create the same sense of specialty at a much lower cost so you can compete more effectively.
• There is clearly differentiated content that is appropriate for the merchandise group. In the examples above, the toy retailer might include within the learning boutique tips on which toys promote specific developmental milestones; but this would not be appropriate within the general catalog, which focuses more on fun and play. The grocer might include gourmet recipes in the gourmet boutique, whereas it would not be appropriate within the general catalog because it would alienate segments of the audience who are not looking for upscale food products. This specialized content makes a strong statement that you are a key player in the category, and that the merchandise grouping is one of your areas of special expertise.
• The boutique is consistent with your company's branding and strategy. You can only create a limited number of boutiques and still retain the impact of a specialized focus. Before you commit to the implementation, be sure that the focus of the content is not inconsistent with your company's overall branding. You also need to be sure that the merchandise group is one the company is committed to for the long term, since creating the boutique effect will build image and retention to your product grouping over time.
• The merchandise grouping naturally lends itself to a boutique format. Not every merchandise group will work - pens work, business card cases don't. Ladies accessories work, Ladies blouses don't. This is not a random focus on a key merchandise group, but the selection of a group that has the characteristics of a stand-alone concept . If you haven't heard of a specialty shop that exclusively sells the merchandise group you want to feature, the boutique concept won't work for you.
How do you create a boutique in a traditional catalog?
• Name the boutique to support differentiated branding. In the toy retailer example, you might call the boutique "Toy World Learning Center." In the grocer example, you might call the boutique "Super Mart's Gourmet Shoppe."
• Create a distinctive section within your catalog. Don't simply use a section header. Carve out an insert or full pages and use your creative design to create the feeling that you are walking into a specialty shop - this should not blend with the rest of your catalog. Create a separate logo and a distinctive, though not disparate, look from the rest of your catalog.
• Create distinctive copy. Use a tone appropriate to the specialty and increase the amount of space dedicated to editorial content to reflect your expert knowledge in this area.
• Add special services. If you are committed to this specialty, show it. In the toy retailer example, you might offer free booklets developed in conjunction with a child development expert recommending the best classic learning toys at each age. In the grocery example, you might offer free shipping of all gourmet food baskets or custom food basket design.
• Market it as a specialty boutique. On the cover of your catalogs and in the index, call out the special boutique section: "Inside, dozens of new items in our Learning Center." Keep the distinction in all catalog references: "Order our newest catalog, including dozens of new items in our Super Mart Gourmet Shoppe."
How do you create a boutique online? Use all of the above but adapt to the channel. You can be much more creative with the specialty copy than you can with a traditional catalog, adding not only tips but customer forums, etc.
Allow entry to your site from this port and market appropriately. Register the boutique as a separate port of entry to attract new customers who have interest in this specialty but may have no interest in your general product offerings.
Deirdre Girard is a principal and co-founder of PreVision Marketing. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.