Catalogers Put Focus on Multichannel Sales

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Catalogers are finding that the Internet has opened doors in their efforts to attract shoppers and are allocating more money for online initiatives. That multichannel alliance, involving catalogs, Web sites and even brick-and-mortar stores, seems to have become a high priority for catalogers as they shift business strategies to accommodate all elements.

As the 18th Annual Catalog Conference & Exhibition opens on June 4th, officials say most catalogers have an online presence and place more emphasis on how to make multichannel efforts work. As a result, the conference has beefed up sessions on better selling techniques for multichannel use.

"A few years ago the focus for [direct marketers] was getting up to speed with the Internet," said Amy Blankenship, director of consumer media relations at the Direct Marketing Association. "Now that these companies are selling through multiple channels -- Web sites, catalogs and stores -- what we've heard is people want to focus on how to make it all work together."

This year's conference, at the John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center in Boston, features 80 sessions, eight workshops and four executive forums.

About 260 exhibitors have been booked, filling the exhibit floor with more than 500 booths. Last year's conference had 660 booths, and much of the decrease stems from the demise of dot-com companies that attended last year, Blankenship said.

Keynote speakers for this year's conference include Martin McClanan, CEO of RedEnvelope; Bran Ferren, co-chairman and creative officer at Applied Minds; and Fred Young, CEO of Black Box. The catalog conference is the DMA's second-biggest event, behind the annual fall show. In previous years, the catalog conference has attracted close to 6,000 direct marketers.

Multichannel initiatives seem to have become a top priority for catalogers who say that despite a gloomy economic environment, they are pumping more money into building better Web sites. In fact, many say budgets for online efforts have increased this year.

"Our Web site makes up 25 percent of our sales," said Jack Kotowski, marketing manager of travel supplies catalog Magellan's. "Obviously, our online efforts are very important, and what we have learned is that each channel helps the other. The catalog helps the e-commerce, and e-commerce helps catalog."

The company has been steadily increasing its budget for both its catalog and Internet initiatives, although Kotowski would not say by what percentage or amount.

Some of the initiatives surround prospecting efforts, which include increasing catalog circulation and building its e-mail data file to be used for e-mail campaigns, he said.

Like Magellan's, The Mark Group, Boca Raton, FL -- title owner of Boston Proper -- also has placed more emphasis on Internet initiatives.

Skip Hartzell, chief creative director at The Mark Group, said the cataloger is finalizing plans to revamp Web sites for its two remaining catalogs -- Mark, Fore & Strike and Charles Keath. While the catalogs have home pages, they feature only a catalog order form.

"The Web has become a very important tool for catalogers," Hartzell said. "It allows you to do things that you might not necessarily be able to do with a catalog alone. It just adds another element to the overall business."

Most catalogers say online and offline activities are intertwined. While many use their books to drive customers to Web sites, others have taken the initiative to build online awareness and efficiency, such as partnering with other Web sites, implementing better search functions, using digital photography and even using three-dimensional models.

Internet and multichannel efforts are not the only top issues concerning catalogers. The DMA also has scheduled a postal reform session.

Jerry Cerasale, the DMA's senior vice president for government affairs, will lead the discussion. Blankenship said the session was added because more catalogers voiced concerns about recent news of a second postal rate increase this year and possible additional increases next year.

"It's an issue that's at the forefront of most people's minds in this industry," Blankenship said. "It's a critical issue to direct marketers. It's a very hot, very urgent issue that affects a cataloger's bottom line in a very significant way."


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