Catalogs: Low-Tech Tools for High-Tech Sales

Once you hit the virtual ceiling on sales, consider using print catalogs to complement your e-tail business.

Sometimes, the key to promoting high-tech online sales is going low.

Strange
as it may seem in a time when billions of dollars of commerce is taking
place on the Web, old-fashioned ink-on-paper can be a very potent tool
for goosing sales and cementing customer relationships.

“When
Web sites started to show themselves, they replaced things like
catalogs, stores, telephones, answering centers,” says Eddie Bakhash,
president of AmericanPearl.com, a high-end New York-based jewelry
company.

Now, Bakhash says, the world of online selling
is “reaching maturity. Every site reaches a threshold where you’ve
built a great site, you’re in the search engines, you’re spending money
on cost-per-click advertising and your business cannot expand on the
Internet anymore.”

That’s the time to look back, and reconsider another time-tested promotional tool – catalogs.

Catalogs say you’re here to stay

Mario
Barth saw a 12 percent increase in sales when he started circulating
fliers for his online tattoo supplies business, The Tattoo Superstore.

“With
all the Internet sites out there, if there is not some form of printed
material supporting what you do, people think it’s not real,” says
Barth, who runs four high-end tattoo studios and the online supply
company from his Rochelle Park, N.J., headquarters.

A year after Barth sent a catalog to his customer base, online sales had increased by 1,045 percent. No joke.

“They
felt very secure that the company is real,” says Barth, who started his
site about three years before sending out the first catalog in 2004. “I
send catalogs at least twice a year to my customers, and then I support
it sometimes with special fliers as an insert in the catalog. People
keep the catalog instead of throwing it out. When you make people
interact again with your product, they start ordering again.”

When they work, they work

Not everyone shops by catalog – but those who do remember the business a lot longer, industry research has found.

Nearly
30 percent of footwear consumers said catalogs influenced their
purchases more than newspaper ads, TV commercials or Internet ads,
according to a study by Footwear News/NPD Group. That’s why Kassie
Rempel complements her online women’s shoe boutique, SimplySoles, with
seasonal catalogs.

“When I started SimplySoles, the
business model was always to create dual marketing channels: the
catalog and the Web site,” Rempel says. “They complement each other by
reinforcing the brand. Business from the catalog is strong – 60 percent
phone orders versus 40 percent Web orders. Our catalog keeps
SimplySoles in the minds of our customers. We come to them, versus them
just coming to us.”

AmericanPearl.com’s catalogs are
half magazine, half selling tool  ?  or, as they’re called in
publishing, “magalogs.” It’s a great way to “reinforce a message to an
existing customer,” Bakhash says.

In fact, existing
clients are the best audience for a catalog. Bakhash cautions fellow
e-tailers to stay away from catalogs as a tool to find new buyers.
They’re best, he says, for reminding customers you’re there and
reawakening their desire to shop at your site.

AmericanPearl.com
customers get catalogs before holidays, an anniversary or birthday.
It’s a way to send a “meaningful message,” Bakhash says.

How to do it?

If
you’re ready to add a catalog to your e-biz, start small, suggests
jeweler Bakhash, who launched his online company in 1997 and issued his
first catalog in 2001. Don’t commission a high-cost printer; buy
desktop publishing software, a really good printer and do it yourself.

“With
a little time and some off-the-shelf software, you can create
beautiful-looking catalogs,” says Bakhash, whose company sends out
75,000 catalogs a year. “Once you measure your feedback, you can expand
on that.”

Consider variable data printing – sending
different catalogs to different customers based on their latest
purchase (what accessories go with what they’ve already bought?). Not
every marketing piece has to be the same.

Bakhash
says the key to catalogs is using them as a tool for building ongoing
relationships with your customers and keeping them strong – not just
selling once, and leaving a pile of potential new sales on the table.

Lynne Meredith Schreiber
is a freelance writer for StartupNation.

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