Underhill: Catalogers Need Help in 3-D World of Retail

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY - Some catalogers with legendary customer service at their call centers can't manage gift wrapping in their stores that isn't "facisistic," said Envirosell managing director Paco Underhill during the opening keynote Sept. 21 at the New England Mail Order Association's fall conference at The Saratoga Hotel here.

"Our future is the great merchants who are recognizing what they can get out of stores, the Internet and catalogs," Mr.Underhill said.

Mr. Underhill runs Envirosell, which tests prototype stores for many of the world's largest merchants.

The catalog industry has done a very good job of projecting an evocative brand image in a two-dimensional format. Where it is trouble is in the three-dimensional world, Mr. Underhill said.

For example, he'll shop the Land's End catalog but won't shop the brand in Sears stores. Another example is The Territory Ahead, which Mr. Underhill said is one of his favorite catalogs because of the colorful copy. The stores, on the other hand, are bland.

Some examples of merchants who are currently executing multichannel merchandising well include Staples, which makes it easy to order online and pick up in the store; Best Buy, which has in-store kiosks that not only enable customers to buy items but also do a better job of providing information about the products than store personnel; and David Yurman, which asks its female customers for their boyfriends' or husbands' e-mail addresses so the store can send them reminders about her favorite items.

Kiosks are much better utilized by merchants in other parts of the world, Mr. Underhill said. A supermarket in Sweden, for example, uses them to showcase exotic vegetables as a way to trade up customers.

Europe is also ahead of the U.S. when it comes to green marketing, but it is coming, Mr. Underhill said.

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