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The Mouse That Ate the Catalog

So Mickey Mouse and his friends think they can do things differently. The Walt Disney Co. will mail two more catalogs and then call it quits with that part of direct marketing while going full blast with its search engine marketing and e-mail efforts. If successful, it doesn’t bode well for this multichannel notion, does it?

“Customers almost dictated this to us. Once they go online, we just don’t see them going back to the phone,” Paul Gainer, vice president of Disney Shopping, told The New York Times last week. Gainer said he tested various mail approaches with the catalog, but online orders grew faster than phone orders. In fact, phone orders fell 45 percent over the holidays. Still, there are a few unanswered questions. For starters, does Gainer think his catalogs are driving any of those online orders? I’m sure I’ve run across a study or two supporting the idea that people like to page through a catalog before going online to do the actual buying.

Browsing through a catalog is also much faster, no matter how fast your Internet connection is. And what about the hands-on aspect that a catalog offers? A postcard just isn’t the same. The decision also ignores all those people who lack broadband access, or even Internet access at all. It’s interesting to note the number of Internet firms that launched catalogs in recent weeks. Amazon.com replaced its Tool Crib catalog with two separate titles: Amazon.com Contractor and Amazon.com Woodworker. Online corporate gifts firm Creative Expressions mailed its second catalog this month, and eToys debuted a Birthday Catalog in January.

In the rug space, RugsUSA mailed its first book last month, and Buy Rugs Direct distributes its first catalog next month. As RugsUSA president Koorosh Yaraghi told us, “We’ve exhausted driving traffic online. We’re everywhere in keyword buys. That’s why we decided to launch a catalog. I expect it to work more as an advertising piece.”

It seems that Gainer has dismissed how much traffic a catalog drives to a company’s Web site. A comScore Networks study found that catalog recipients made 16 percent more online visits, viewed 22 percent more pages and spent 15 percent more time at the retailer’s Web site. OK, the U.S. Postal Service commissioned that study, so there was a motive behind the results, but still. Perhaps the Disney folks need to look at changing their catalog philosophy instead of ditching it. I can’t wait to see what the company’s online sales do for the rest of the year.

Tad Clarke is editor in chief of DM News. His editorial appears Mondays on www.dmnews.com and in our e-mail newsletter. You can subscribe to our e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters

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