Lillian Vernon's Shapiro: Online Migration Continues

RYE, NY — Senior executives from five DM firms talked up the Web, marketing to Hispanics, insert media, multichannel marketing, rising paper prices and the customer experience yesterday at the Hudson Valley Direct Marketing Association's annual “Meet the Presidents” luncheon here at Manursing Island Club.

The changing shopping habits of the U.S. consumer were top of mind for many in the audience during the event's question-and-answer format. It was perhaps best summed up by Jonathan Shapiro, president of Lillian Vernon Corp., White Plains, NY, who said, “shift happens.”

Shapiro reported that 45 percent of his company's orders in the recent holiday season came from its Web site.

“If [shift to the online channel] is happening for us, it is happening for everybody,” he said.

Two other executives echoed his sentiments. Chris Topping, CEO of Petals Decorative Accents, a catalog of silk flowers, said 40 percent of his customers are 65 or older, yet they shop the Web.

Stephen Fendler, president of CM Almy, a catalog of clothing for the church and clergy, said the company's 2-year-old Web site is its biggest driver of new name acquisitions, generating 40 percent of new customers and 10 percent of sales.

“Our bigger buyers are our multichannel buyers,” Shapiro said. This makes sense, he added, because these are the shoppers a retailer communicates with most often.

“Our customers don't think of us as a catalog, they think of us as Lillian Vernon,” he said, and they want to transact with the brand how and when they want to.

While monitoring at a Petals call center, Topping said he discovered many customers have the Petals Web site open when placing a phone order. It's important that Petals' phone staff can talk comfortably about its Web offers, Topping said.

It's possible to integrate a call center and Web site even further, Shapiro said. For example, technology is available that lets a sales representative take control of a customer's Web experience and even put product in front of him or her.

Some nuances of multichannel marketing often are overlooked, said Sherry Scapperotti, president of insert media company PlusMedia LLC. Scapperotti reported that she has clients who use different offers on an insert and their Web sites, even though the insert directs recipients to the site. Usually, the Web site offer is better. Not only is this potentially confusing for consumers, it “is damaging to insert media,” she said.

Pam Kimmerling-Hoveling, principal partner and co-founder of marketing agency RK Hispanica Direct, tried to put to rest any notion that marketing to Hispanics isn't a factor, citing bilingual signs in stores such as Home Depot as an example.

Yet Hispanics still receive only a fraction of the direct mail that the general market gets, though they are very responsive, she reported.

When marketing to Hispanics, remember that the population is changing, Kimmerling-Hoveling said. Until recently, it was mostly urban based. But this is no longer true as the population moves into suburbs and smaller towns.

“There are small communities of Hispanics popping up all over,” she said, noting for example that Charlotte, NC, has 80,000 Hispanics.

Topping expressed his concern that Petals just got hit with its fourth paper price increase in a year. This sentiment was echoed by several members of the audience, including one who reported that prices have risen 26 percent recently.

Chantal Todé covers catalog and retail news and BTB marketing for DM News and DM To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting

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