Donnelley Aims to Put the 'E' in E-Catalog Sales

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Though the catalog industry has been inexplicably slow to adopt the Internet as a selling tool -- less than 30 percent accept orders online, according to industry estimates -- printer R.R. Donnelley & Sons, Chicago, recently started nudging clients into e-commerce with an initiative called Select Source.

Since unveiling the service at the 15th Annual Catalog Conference & Exhibition in Boston in June, 20 companies have signed on, Donnelley said, bringing the total to 30. About 10 firms have been testing Select Source for a year. So far, the participating catalogers are mostly business-to-consumer marketers, including Jos. A. Bank, Motherwear, Domestications, Rubbermaid, Spiegel's Newport News and Hanover Direct's Colonial Garden Kitchens. A business-to-business push also is in the works.

Select Source includes three services:

* Conversion of product shots to Internet-publishable images for $25 each.

* Store hosting at www.goshoppingonline.

* Promotion through an affiliate network that at press time was 180 sites, including Yahoo, Lycos, iVillage and HomeArts, and slated to be 500 sites by the holiday season.

Both the store-hosting and promotional services are available for a fee, a cut of sales or some combination of the two. Like most online affiliates programs, Donnelley agrees to pay sites that carry advertising or links to its clients' sites a 5 percent to 7 percent commission on product sales to visitors from the linked sites.

"We're trying to help our catalog and retail clients sell their merchandise, generate catalog leads and promote their brands online," said Brian Bodell, director of electronic commerce sales at Donnelley. "We're also trying to help our publishing clients generate new forms of revenue."

Catalog requests generated through Select Source currently are free, but Donnelley is considering charging for them, Bodell said.

Seed cataloger W. Atlee Burpee & Co., Warminster, PA, said it has boosted its Web site orders by 50 percent and catalog requests by 20 percent since signing on with Select Source. Originally, Burpee had balked at putting more than just a few of its best sellers online, said Don Zeidler, Burpee's direct marketing manager. With 1,200 to 1,400 products at an average price of just $2 each, "it was very hard to cost-justify spending a lot in programming to put up that many products [online]."

Negative e-mail from hobbyists, however, convinced the cataloger to make its online offering comprehensive. According to Zeidler, the conversion-to-sale rate for catalogs requested online has since been "a tad" better than catalogs requested using traditional print media. The average order size from catalogs requested online has been 25 percent higher than from those requested through traditional media.

Since leads generated online can be imported directly into the company database, Zeidler also estimated that Burpee saves 30 percent to 40 percent in administrative costs associated with processing traditional catalog requests. Burpee also has started Club Burpee, an e-mail update subscriber list that Zeidler said now numbers in the hundreds of thousands.
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