Combining Multiple Channels and Individual Customers for Catalog Success

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Several years ago, a client offered what he considered to be sage advice: The age of catalog retail was headed for extinction. "E-tailing" was the rage, and the only choice for prudent marketers was to abandon catalog sales and allocate all their resources to developing an Internet presence.

But unlike the dinosaurs, today's catalog market is vibrant and vital. Catalog companies aren't falling down before the e-commerce juggernaut; they are embracing it. The result is a multichannel buzz that's the hottest topic in retail.

As more companies move to expand their opportunities through catalogs, online or in the brick-and-mortar world, it's important to remember that customers don't see multiple channels of any organization as separate entities. Retailers need to do the same.

The rules remain constant: Give customers what they want, how they want it and when they want it, and they will return. Customers will go away if their expectations aren't met, whether it's a phone number that's perpetually busy, not enough registers open or frequent technical problems online.

Companies who recognize customers regardless of where they shop will be able to build the strong relationships necessary for success, as will those that leverage customer information across multiple channels to drive marketing strategies and strengthen customer service.

The first step is to integrate customer information from all channels into a single, accessible database that reflects the whole customer profile. This foundation gives catalog marketers a starting point from which direct mail campaigns, personalized catalogs, individualized home pages and other innovative marketing initiatives can be launched. As the transaction history for each customer grows, new opportunities for cross-channel marketing emerge.

Establishing a seamless customer service organization is also critical. Customers should be able to call one toll-free number and get information on the status of their order, regardless of whether they ordered online or through a catalog. The call should trigger a response with a relevant offer -- delivered via e-mail or in the mailbox, depending on the customer's preferred channel for buying.

There are some simple questions that catalog retailers should ask themselves to rate their effectiveness in the multichannel world:

* Does the customer database roll up all channel purchases?

* Do channels operate in a vacuum, or are they being combined -- and the knowledge applied -- throughout the operation?

* What are the marketing strategies applied to the best of combined-channel customers and best of single-channel customers?

* What trigger programs are in place to follow up with customers, including those that welcome, thank or prompt customers who haven't shopped in a while?

* Has the company's business philosophy evolved as it does business in multiple channels?

* Are customers treated differently depending on where they shop?

In today's highly competitive business environment, the value of information cannot be underestimated. As consumers shop in multiple venues, there is an increasing amount of insight that can be gained to help understand customers' preferences, buying behaviors and response rates to marketing initiatives. Successful catalog marketers will draw information from all points of contact to develop a single view of the customer and use that integrated profile to build lifelong relationships with customers that increase value and strengthen the bottom line.

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