Shopping Around

The changing environment for direct and retail marketing.

Shopping around behavior, browsing in one channel and buying in another, has been documented for the past three years in DoubleClick's Multi-Channel Shopping Study. Issued each January, the study shows an increasing preponderance of this behavior: the incidence of multi-channel shopping grew by nine points from Holiday 2002 to Holiday 2003 — 65 percent of consumers are now considered multi-channel shoppers. The pool of retail only shoppers has declined to only 27 percent of the total.

But are shop-arounders really more valuable to a company? According to JC Williams, who has done work with JC Penney, a retail-only customer is worth $195, but an Internet/retail customer is worth $485 and the tri-fecta of consumers, a triple channel shopper (retail, Internet plus catalog) is worth $887.

Wither Retail?
Anyone who's lived in New York or San Francisco too long tends to dismiss shopping malls as those places where suburbia and middle America go in the absence of any real street culture. Yet, when we look at our own cities we see not the malling of America but the malling of urban life. How have retailers managed to remain relevant and hot as they expand their customer base? By understanding the changing dynamics of retail and marketing, and using their stores and catalogs to create and expand upon a lifestyle vision. Each channel can drive to the other enabling consumers to purchase when and where they want. Some interesting tactics are being employed:

  • Catalog quick-shop functionality: when consumers go to a Web site, they can simply find the product they notice in a catalog

  • Click-able catalogs: replicating the lifestyle environment precisely from the catalog online

  • Putting circulars online: long the mainstay of the discount retailer, how can you make them easily accessible to a population increasingly unlikely to buy newspapers?

  • Developing channel specific products: this can solve inventory issues and encourage cross shopping.

The Future of the Catalog
While we will never again see the Wild West of the big books from companies like Sears that filled the homesteads of a geographically expanding population, catalogs will continue to have their place as branding and lifestyle enhancement vehicles and for exploring specific niches. Companies like Lego, neither a retailer nor a direct merchant, successfully created a catalog as a branding device and introduced e-commerce while mitigating the murky waters of retail partner conflict. The major challenge for catalogers is determining optimal print runs to drive both store and/or online purchase. This can only be achieved through multi-channel data integration.

Crossing the Channel Divide
It's no secret that it's just a lot harder to be a good retailer these days. If it's not Wal-Mart undercutting price, it's store generics and the price comparison functionality of the Web — an endless and growing list of issues for retailers. The only logical step is to work toward an integrated marketing approach that addresses one customer regardless of where she shops. Integration isn't easy, but some of the smartest marketers out there have taken a step-by-step approach both operationally and technologically to make it happen.

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