Web Sales Will Top Call-Center Sales in 2 Years, Report Says

Web site sales are likely to surpass call-center sales within the next two years, according to one of two new reports regarding catalogs released yesterday by New York-based DoubleClick Inc.

Catalogs remain critical to multichannel success but need to evolve more rapidly to retain their status, according to “The Changing Role of the Catalog for Multi-Channel Retailers,” which is based on interviews with more than 30 companies, including Williams-Sonoma, Smith+Noble, REI, Bombay Company and J.C. Penney.

The medium’s success lies in developing catalog creative and merchandising that is suitable for a multichannel shopper, tailoring smaller versions of catalogs to multichannel customers and high-value customer segments, and in leveraging integrated customer data, said retail executives interviewed for the study.

Pointing to the likelihood that Web site sales will surpass call-center sales within the next 18 to 24 months, the study underscores the need for catalogers to measure all of the sales generated by their catalog mailings against search, affiliate and e-mail campaigns. By measuring just call-center sales, they may be undervaluing their catalog mailings by up to 50 percent and making the wrong mailing decision on up to one-third of rental lists.

The second report, the “2004 Abacus Annual Catalog Industry Trend Report,” supports the first with findings such as only 43 percent of sales that can be attributed to a catalog mailing are handled by a catalog call center. The rest occur online (33 percent) or in a store (24 percent). Abacus is a division of DoubleClick.

In 2003, 32 percent of catalog-driven sales took place online. In 2002, the number was 28 percent.

Between 2002 and 2003, Web site and catalog sales increased 1.4 percent, according to the report. The growth was a result of a 1.5 percent increase in the number of households making purchases and a 3.2 percent increase in the number of transactions. These increases were offset by a slight decline in average order size from $99 to $98.

The category that underwent the largest sales growth was tools, which saw volume increase 16 percent, followed by men’s products and senior products, both of which had a 9 percent increase in sales. Gifts recorded a 7 percent gain, and home décor and furnishings remained steady while apparel and accessories dropped 5 percent.

The report also suggests that many marketers miss the mark when it comes to selecting drop dates. Though mail volume is high the week of Thanksgiving, response rates are one-third less than they are the week before and the two weeks after this holiday. The company suggests avoiding in-home dates in the days leading up to and including the election.

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