Is Your Paper Catalog Dying?

I was discussing with a client last week the method his company uses to allocate credit to matchbacked orders. The discussion quickly turned to how to allocate credit for an order received from a site or name that had been mailed, but ordered via the Web and entered via a search engine, not a direct URL entry. There were several company marketing reps in the room, and the discussion quickly got interesting.

As I sat back and observed the “internal communication dynamics” (read: chaos), I couldn’t help but notice the respective points of view were being argued from very different perspectives on the business. No one involved in the discussion was being objective. Essentially, the participants with the “legacy view” were vested in the catalog and other mailings, while the e-commerce folks were advocates of the ways of the future, albeit with less development analysis.

When it came time for me to play referee — a common role of a trusted advisor — I started with a position we could all agree on: The relevance of the paper catalog was trending downward; perhaps even dying. What we couldn’t agree on, of course, was how soon and if the catalog would ever really breathe its last breath. Only the interpretation of the numbers will tell us that.

If you find yourself in the same debate as to how to evaluate and allocate your matchback results, here are some guidelines to follow (note, each company will have “nuances”):

* Direct-entry URL orders get credited to the catalog or other mailing, particularly if your catalog carries a unique URL.

* Search engine orders get credited to the Web, unless you receive catalog item codes.

* Avoid blatant, biased views such as allocating all orders to the catalog within 30 days of it being dropped. Conversely, avoid allocating all online orders that don’t have catalog item codes to online marketing efforts.

* Examine by customer segment the migration to the Web to place orders, regardless of how those orders are generated.

* Survey your customers to learn firsthand how their offline vs. online shopping habits are changing.

* Understand the logical progression in shopping behavior. Customers typically don’t move online overnight; they migrate over time. First they might use the Web for information only, then requests, then simple orders, then all orders.

* Understand your customers and their orientation with, and trust of, the online channel. If you’re selling iPod accessories vs. home-care aids for seniors, the importance of online will be very different for each. There are no hard-and-fast rules for every merchant.

Like the Housing or Stock Market?  In the end, no one can avoid the fact that the paper catalog isn’t what it used to be. How much will it decline? I maintain it’s like the housing or stock markets — we won’t know until we get there. Will it ever completely die? At the moment I think probably, but not in my lifetime.

Know too that other forces are ganging up on the catalog. For example, look at the impact of Catalog Choice (www.catalogchoice.org), a service that allows you to decide what catalogs you receive in your mailbox. The organization proclaims: “Simplify your life and save natural resources,” and now boasts 400,000-plus subscribers. Combine that with the recent postal increase and pending paper increases, and it’s not hard to see the forces in play. The future of the catalog isn’t bright. I guess one client summed it up best, saying “If I were starting my business over again today, I wouldn’t start a catalog. I’d only do online.”

Terence Jukes is president of B2B Direct Marketing Intelligence LLC, a strategic B2B direct marketing consultancy based in Fort Lauderdale, Fl., that services clients in the U.S., Canada, France, the U.K. and Germany. You can reach him at tjukes@b2bdmi.com or (954) 383-5221 (direct line).

Terence Jukes is president of B2B Direct Marketing Intelligence LLC, a strategic B2B direct marketing consultancy based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that services B2B catalog company clients in the U.S., Canada, France, the U.K. and Germany. You can reach him at tjukes @ b2bdmi.com or (954) 383-5221

Comments or questions are welcome.

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