E-tailers Click and Flip to Attract More Shoppers

Bricks-and-mortar, Internet-only, click-and-mortar — now, there is a new category of retailer emerging: click-and-flip, or companies that market via the Internet and catalogs.

Catalogers were quick to build online stores as Internet-only start-ups were encroaching on their businesses. Now, many companies that started as Internet-only retailers have joined the ranks of click-and-flip by launching a print counterpart to their Web sites.

Why are these new economy organizations embracing a channel that some feared would become extinct? The goals of catalog programs certainly vary by company; however, there are some common objectives across most organizations:

Identify remote shoppers. There are some unique characteristics of both online and catalog shoppers, or “remote shoppers.” They are comfortable providing credit card information over the phone or online and feel secure about the transaction. There is not a great need for this segment to touch and feel the product before the purchase, provided that product presentation is clear and the customers trust the brand. They can obtain shipment of products either at work or home. They enjoy the exploration for new and unique products and enjoy shopping at their own convenience around-the-clock. Online buyers tend to buy from catalogs more often than the average U.S. household.

Internet-only retailers are finding that by launching a catalog, they are able to find buyers who purchase similar products remotely. They also benefit from the targeting tools the direct marketing industry has developed, such as cooperative databases like Abacus.

Drive traffic. Companies have invested significant amounts of money on their e-commerce infrastructures, and they now need to drive traffic to their sites and deliver results. E-tailers look at their catalog efforts differently than traditional catalogers; their objective is not necessarily to make the sale via the catalog but rather to inspire a person to purchase online. E-tailers generally use their catalog to feature a sampling of the broader product offering available on their site. They also use the catalog to communicate all of the added benefits of shopping online such as special offers, detailed product information, lifestyle content and tools available on the site, all of which are likely to appeal to their target customers.

Greatfood.com was the first Internet-only retailer to take an innovative approach to the traditional catalog concept, launching the first “netalog,” which can be described as a “catalog companion” to greatfood.com's Web site. One of the distinct features of the netalog is that it serves as a great navigational tool for the online store. Each item in the netalog is assigned a product code, and upon arrival at the site, there is a clear and distinct entry point for netalog shoppers. Once on the home page for the netalog, the customer enters the product code, and the search feature takes the shopper directly to the specified item. And from there, it is easy to find other related or similar products.

Build brand. Many e-tailers are competing in segments with well-established national brands. In most cases, these brands have a huge advantage in the marketplace because they have had the benefit of time and exposure to capture the minds and hearts of consumers.

In addition, many traditional catalogers and retailers have used their catalog or other print media as the lead vehicle to build their brand image. For example, the distinct lifestyle photography of the J. Crew catalog and the unique layout and design of the Sharper Image catalog drive the brands in all channels.

Internet-only retailers are catching on. Millions of dollars are spent on brand-awareness advertising, and several Internet-only companies have built strong brand recognition in a remarkably short period of time. Even Web-based companies with huge advertising budgets are choosing to launch catalogs as a key component of their branding strategy. Amazon.com, Red Envelope.com, Garden.com, Mondera.com and Miadora.com have all launched catalog programs. The printed catalog plays an integral role in their brand development. The overall design of the catalog, quality of the photography, color palette, type style, copy voice, personality and even the paper stock affect the perception of the brand.

Sell e-channel-resistant consumers. Despite what many of us want to believe, there is still a large segment of consumers that is either not Web-enabled or not receptive to buying through this channel. Many Internet-only retailers have recognized this problem and, in response, have used a catalog program to reach this customer segment, which has considerable buying potential. These Web-based companies recognize the opportunity to capture additional revenues by launching a catalog. In addition, as these resistant consumers adapt to e-commerce, the e-tailer will have established a relationship.

The number of click-and-flips is on the rise as catalogs and netalogs offer great potential for Internet-only retailers to increase their customer base and revenues. Analysis of some of the early entrants into the click-and-flip arena leads us to believe that expertise is required on “the flip side.” This news is good for direct marketers. The full potential of this channel will be realized only if the catalogs and netalogs incorporate sound direct marketing principles.

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