Web Buyers Use Catalogs Differently, Forrester Says

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Though the Web isn't replacing catalogs, online shoppers increasingly use print books more as desk references than as points of purchase, and merchants should develop their catalogs accordingly, a recent Forrester Research report said.


"Web buyers don't use catalogs for kindling, but they do use catalogs differently," said the report, "Who Cares About Catalogs?" released this month by the Cambridge, MA, research firm. "As they become more seasoned Web buyers, they decrease the amount of time and money they spend through catalogs."


In a survey of 8,000 households Forrester conducted in September, 29 percent of Web buyers said they go online to get more information about a product they saw in a catalog, compared with 13 percent of consumers overall.


The report added that 82 percent of Web buyers still look through most catalogs they receive, and only 6 percent said catalogs are not valuable.


"Clearly, people still love catalogs," the report said. "But as online sales surpass catalog sales in 2005, costs to produce and mail catalogs continue to increase and e-mail marketing options proliferate, it's time for catalogers to rethink their plans."


However, cutting pages or circulation is not the answer, according to Forrester. Catalogers should identify online-heavy and catalog-heavy consumers in their databases and design catalogs aimed at them accordingly, Forrester suggests. Online-heavy consumers should get catalogs that have less content and more references to online features.


"They're not going to perfect this overnight, but that's the direction they need to move toward because the actual monetary rewards of catalogs are going to become more ambiguous," Forrester analyst Christopher Kelley said.


Kelley suggested tracking customers who type product codes from the catalog on merchants' Web sites. He also recommended running promotions in print with promotional codes that consumers can use online, thereby identifying themselves as print catalog browsers who buy online.


Not surprisingly, consumers don't think of companies in terms of their shopping channels, such as the Victoria's Secret catalog versus VictoriasSecret.com. They simply think of Victoria's Secret, Kelley said.


"Consumers are mixing the channels on a very fluid basis … and they're just looking for transparency," he said.


As a result, integrating online and offline operations is key, Kelley added. He said that anecdotally, about half of the merchants Forrester deals with have integrated their online and offline operations.


"Consumers are already there, and businesses are figuring out the best way to get there," he said.


The Forrester report also suggested that image-driven catalogers consider adding "an Abercrombie & Fitch-esque art catalog that captures the essence of the brand as part of their catalog production cycle," not as a replacement for the traditional catalog, but as an additional marketing tool.


"When you have a brand that elicits emotion … you need to make an artsier catalog that's not just going to drive sales through the catalog itself, but remind people why they shop with this brand, and to get people either into the stores or onto the Web," Kelley said. This tactic is more for apparel catalogers than, say, for office supply merchants, he said.


"The role of the catalog has changed with online consumers, and the catalog has to change accordingly," he said.


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