Multichannel Shift Pleases Attendees

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CHICAGO -- Despite grumblings about slow floor traffic, the overall response was positive to last week's Annual Conference for Catalog, Internet and Multichannel Merchants.

In part, this had to do with the show's new focus on multichannel merchants, who were well represented along with new offerings designed to meet their needs.

"This is an excellent place to meet folks that have issues across multiple channels as opposed to some of the more targeted shows," said Jim Harold, client executive for information management services provider Acxiom Corp., which returned to the show for the first time after five years.

One reason for the company's return was the emphasis on Internet and multichannel merchants, Mr. Harold said. But he and several other exhibitors thought this year's show appeared to be slow in terms of traffic.

ACCM 2006 drew about 4,500 participants, according to the Direct Marketing Association, one of the show's producers. However, there's no way to compare this estimate with last year's numbers because this was the first time the DMA released attendance figures.

Multichannel merchants "are the kind of people we need to learn about," said Jeff Sims, vice president of sales and marketing at catalog printer Progress Printing.

His company does about 60 percent of its business in catalogs, up from 20 percent a few years ago. Much of that increase has been driven by the Internet's growth, he said.

Some Internet firms attending ACCM were surprised at the lack of experience with online marketing by some of the smaller catalogers. Executives from e-commerce solutions providers ChannelAdvisor and Kaon Inc. said they met with several smaller business catalogers that had yet to launch a Web site.

"We've gotten some decent business we wouldn't have" at other shows, ChannelAdvisor sales manager John Fitzpatrick said.

Jeff Molander, CEO of affiliate marketing specialist Molander & Associates was "stunned" to see the "beginner" level at which the search and Web metrics sessions were conducted.

"So far as I can tell, all the studies suggesting that marketers aren't much interested in advancing in measurement and are completely lost in understanding search marketing are accurate," he said.

This would explain why boning up on multichannel strategies was top of mind for several of the smaller catalogers at the show.

"We're at the show hoping to learn about multichannel strategies," See's Candies senior marketing director Cathy Ver Hage said.

The San Francisco-based chocolate retailer launched a catalog three years ago. When the company dropped a revamped catalog in fall 2005 with better creative, it got a sense of how multichannel marketing's power. According to Ms. Ver Hage, See's experienced same-store increases for the first time in several years as a result of that catalog drop.

See's recently launched its first e-mail marketing campaign and its debut newspaper insert with a coupon using photography from the catalog.

"We saw a significant increase in sales" from the freestanding insert, she said.

At ACCM, Ms. Ver Hage and her team hoped to learn about search and how "to integrate our efforts to the customer."

Even a catalog giant like J.C. Penney has discovered the need to market directly to consumers through multiple channels. During a session at the show, J.C. Penney Direct vice president David Abbott said the company is reducing its catalog circulation and emphasizing Web sales more. He predicted that by next year, revenue generated by the site at www.jcp.com would outpace catalog sales for the first time.

"We're trying to find the happy medium so we're not cutting back so much [on the catalog that] we affect sales," Mr. Abbott said.

The Plano, TX, company also is testing sending less-costly e-mails to replace some store mailers.

Other catalogers are looking for cross-channel synergies by integrating their catalog and Internet operations. All-Wall, which offers dry wall products to contractors and end users, expects to go live by July with ProfitCenter Software's Profitability Suite, a Web-based system that integrates order processing, CRM and expense management.

"We currently have multiple systems that don't speak to each other," All-Wall president Jason Weiler said at the show, adding that this has hampered the company's ability to grow.

All-Wall expects "to mine data more efficiently" with PCS's system, Mr. Weiler said. "Everybody will be able to see all the data in one system so there will be no confusion." He expects the company to target customers better and grow faster.

Several exhibitors introduced products with integrating and streamlining catalogers operations in mind. Experian's Prospective is a new online solution for managing integrated marketing campaigns that lets users launch campaigns, process customer and outside lists, review campaign performance and track promotion history.

By using Prospective, merchants can make "better, smarter decisions faster and in real time," said Rick Erwin, Experian senior vice president of marketing and product development. Prospecting campaigns become more effective, and companies can reduce costs, time and labor.

"Rising costs are forcing people to think about how to streamline" their marketing, said Chris McDonald, Abacus North America executive vice president and general manager.

Abacus is addressing this issue with Fast Path, a circulation solution that removes certain complexities from the direct mail process and can reduce an eight- to 12-week production cycle to one to two weeks. Costs are reduced, and data are fresher.

Acxiom and Decision Intelligence Inc. introduced their Contact Optimization Solution to help merchants communicate via the right channel at the right frequency to the right customer.

"We are seeing catalogers wanting to leverage information across channels better," Acxiom's Mr. Harold said.

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