Belgian DM Holds to Steady Course as Growth Levels

BRUSSELS — Direct marketing in Belgium has held steady

since 1994 when the last big increase – 6.6 percent – was recorded. Since then sales have moved up or down in a narrow range of 1 or 2 percent.

Last year DM spending accounted for 48 billion Belgian francs ($1.4 billion). That's a higher figure than above the line advertising which last year totaled 38 billion francs ($1.1 billion), ABMD, the Belgian DMA, has reported.

Mail order sales, too, have remained static at around 25 billion francs with Otto Versand, Europe's largest mail order house, holding first place among general catalogers with sales of 11.1 billion Belgian francs last year.

Neckermann, another major German player, was a distant second with 4.7 billion francs and La Redoute, the largest French mail order house, again a distant third with 2.4 billion francs.

Others among the top six listed in the European Retail Handbook included Quelle, another German house, France Loisirs, a Belgian mailer of books, tapes and videos, and Wehkamp, a Great Universal Stores (GUS) subsidiary.

Direct mail remains the key direct marketing tool in efforts to reach Belgium's 4 million households. The country has a population of 10 million.

It also accounts for 30 percent of the Belgian Post Office's turnover, a fact that has led postal officials to push hard for offering mailers more DM products.

This year the post office published a “Guide to Direct Mail” which it distributed in portfolio form, a series of case studies designed to support the Guide, a newsletter called “Post Scriptum,” a brochure on successful direct mailings and a course of seminars.

Home shopping received a major shot in the arm this September when it was legalized in Flanders. Three commercial channels have already begun home shopping programs and deem them successful.

Although home shopping has been legal in the French speaking parts of Belgium, a new channel launched in May has been off to a fast start.

Three months after the kickoff, LTA reported more than 34,000 sales and a viewer survey found that 38 percent of those queried knew LTA and that 45 percent of those watched LTA more than five times a week.

Male-female division was not as one-sided as researchers had believed with 45 percent of those buying product men in the 25 to 45 age range.

Telemarketing is in the take off stage as the Belgians try to exploit Brussels's position of European capital. But they have a long way to go to catch up with neighboring Holland which has pioneered call centers for a decade.

Still, the EU's liberalization of the European telecom sector, meaning that all members must admit private competitors, has energized the call center business.

The ABMD launched a program entitled “Belgium for Call Centers” last year that is designed to attract more foreign companies to set up their telemarketing operations in Belgium, specifically in Brussels.

The Belgians push Brussels for the same reasons Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands do their own sites: an ample supply of multilingual personnel and a state of the art telecom infrastructure. But Belgians add Brussels' position as European capital to the mix.

On the web, BTB does far better on this market than business to consumers, Patrick Marck, spokesman for the ABMD said. But both are still underdeveloped. Only about fifty Websites sold product in Belgium this year.

Not surprisingly perhaps an imitator, Proxis, has made a success of Website selling, though no figures are available on how much money it made or lost.

Proxis sells 2.6 million books in English, French, Flemish and several other languages. It has a music department with everything from blues to rock.

Belgium does have lead of sorts in one potential DM area – smart cards. Banksys has developed a proton card with a chip that allows payment of small expenses like fast food. Amex picked up the technology.

Finally, DM is a serious contributor to the Belgian economy, Marck noted. The industry employs 15,000 people directly with another 200,000 profiting indirectly from DM, mostly through call center work.

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