EBags Packs Plenty Into First Catalog

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The first print catalog from online handbag, luggage and backpack merchant eBags hits 250,000 homes this week.


The 32-page book with the theme "What's your bag?" mails to 200,000 customers and 50,000 prospects. The drop follows the recent news that eBags' products will be featured on Amazon.com's new apparel and accessory store. EBags also recently announced that online retailer Buy.com would begin offering eBags' products to its customers sometime this month and that eBags would fill the orders.


For the new catalog, eBags selected names of customers who bought in the past three months, who bought multiple times and who have made purchases larger than the company's average order size of $80. Also, some customers who made purchases last holiday season were chosen.


Average order size varies by season, said Peter Cobb, co-founder and vice president of marketing at eBags, Denver. It drops to $60 during back-to-school backpack buying season.


"Then as back-to-school becomes less important, some of our handbags and luggage come back into the fold and that brings the average price up," he said.


Prospects for the book come from several unnamed lists, including "known catalog and hopefully Internet as well shoppers," he said. EBags' demographics are 68 percent female with an average household income of $87,000. Its customers tend to live in urban and suburban areas, be college-educated and are often frequent travelers who use credit cards, he said.


The catalog was created inhouse. CEO/co-founder Jon Nordmark wrote much of the copy and selected or took many of the photographs. For example, the cover, most of which features a holiday wreath, has an inset photo on the lower right of a woman in a rural setting with a Mountainsmith Day Pack. The woman is Nordmark's wife, and the shot is from their recent honeymoon.


"This is rural Norway, in the Lofoten Islands," the caption says. "Connie used this bag as a carry-on and a trekking pack while on her Lofoten Island honeymoon." Then, page two leads with the headline, "What's your bag, Connie?" with a story about their trip and the gear they took with them. The catalog uses Connie's maiden name, Bolsinger.


The catalog, which offers some of eBags' 7,000 products from 150 brands, has seven other "What's your bag?" stories, including one on a mountain climber and the six bags he took with him on a recent trip to Russia.


The whole project, which has been on the drawing board for two years, was nearly shelved a month ago when it appeared some deadlines would not be met.


"We were worried," Cobb said. "If you miss it by a week or 10 days, you've missed the holidays."


The belief was that the company already had too many holiday initiatives.


"This was one of those projects that needed a champion in the company, and Jon was the champion who said, 'I'm not ready for this to die,'" Cobb said. "He said, 'You know, I think if I work on this night and day, I think I can get it out in time.' It's all he did for a three-week period."


In the end, Cobb said, the catalog cost one-third what it would have cost had eBags gone to an agency. Cobb was unable to quantify what kind of sales the catalog would have to drive to be a success.


"We kind of call it Catalog University," he said. "We understand that we'll only get better. For example, our conversion rates are five times what they were when we launched the site." EBags' online conversion, or visit-to-purchase, rate runs from 2 percent to 4 percent, he said.


EBags did not staff up specifically for the catalog, he said, adding, "We just know for the holidays there is going to be a surge in traffic." Ten percent to 15 percent of eBags' orders come over the telephone, he said.


Sales for early last week were 75 percent higher than at the same time last year, he said. Also, eBags sales have grown 40 percent each month in the past year, and the company has sold more than 1.5 million bags since it began in March 1999.


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