A Catalog Breakthrough?
When I travel by air, I devour the SkyMall catalog and always find extraordinary ideas. The Holiday 2002 book was no exception. Here were 236 pages of products from some of the leading catalogersand some minor onestogether with their best products and offers, copy and design.
On several occasions I have indexed all the SKUs by subject area and found a slew of near dupesitems that serve the same purpose although different makes and models.
For example: cameras, wristwatches, computer tote bags, etc. If the same kind of item appears in the pages of, say, five or six different catalogs, this is a product that obviously has legs and is worth considering for your own catalog.
In addition, the SkyMall catalog offers copy and design ideas from which you can "steal smart."
A New Idea (At Least to Me)
On page 29 of the catalog's Hammacher Schlemmer section, I discovered a fascinating catalog technique. The top half of the page was devoted to electronics ("Under-Cabinet Media Center With Speakerphone") and a giant bin for firewood.
The bottom half of the page depicted six wildly different products with the following layout: photograph, short descriptive headline, SKU# and price (shown on p. 19). The main headline over the six items:
Find These Items, and hundreds More, at www.skymall.com
In other words, Hammacher Schlemmer shows and headlines six SKUs with just enough information to place an order. If a fuller description is needed, visit www.skymall.com.
Using this technique, the cataloger is able to show and offer six items as opposed to just two if full descriptive copy were included. This is the equivalent of the store window or displaying an item on a shelf in the retail establishment. Although a catalog precludes the touchy-feely aspect of merchandise in a retail establishment, you can learn more about products on the Web site.
The space given to each of these items is 2-1/2" x 1-7/8", or a total of 4.7 square inches. The two items at the top of the pageillustrations and copytook up 3-1/2" x 4", or a total of 14 square inches.
The Idea in Action
So when does it make sense to use this system?
1. Testing. To devote 14 square inches on a brand new item is dangerous. On the other hand, run it in this little section style with minimal space and you can see if it has legs. After using this system over, say, six editions of your catalog, you will begin to get a feel for how new products will do relative to each other and relative to full-blown treatment in the book.
2. Remainder Sales. Do you have low inventory of an item that precludes a full-dress catalog presentation of 14 square inches? Perhaps it could be profitable if you devoted 4.7 square inches in the catalog and as much space as necessary on the Web site.
Does this scheme work? Yes and no. I hit the SkyMall Web site on January 28, data entered the item number for each of the six products, and here's what I got:
77448J Indoor Remote Controlled Blimpunavailable
62960J Blood Pressure Monitorillustration, offer info, 162 words of copy
66747J 570 Degree Oven Mittillustration, offer info, zero words of copy
61772J Talking Wristwatchillustration, offer info, 131 words of copy
73106J Jet Teeth Cleanerillustration, offer info, 123 words of copy
63718J Largest Universal Remoteillustration, offer info, zero words of copy
It's not surprising that the indoor blimp was no longer on the Web site in late January; it was a holiday toy and probably sold out. The blood pressure monitor, talking watch and jet teeth cleaner were textbook correct presentations on the Web.
The two "problem" items: the oven mitt and the universal remote, neither of which had descriptive copy. Maybe the oven mitt is self-explanatory and needs no selling copy. However, zero copy for the universal remote was a serious omission. I would never buy this thing unless I were sure it could work on my Sony TV, Quasar videocassette player/recorder and Bang & Olufsen stereo system.
The marketing people at SkyMall dropped the ball here by not contacting Hammacher Schlemmer to get descriptive copy. Or, if sales copy exists in the SkyMall product data bank, why was it not used?
Moving from print to the Web can work. Many print catalogers are reporting that 15 percent or more of their sales are derived from the Internet. But only in rare cases (e.g., the oven mitt) will sales be consummated with little or no descriptive copy.
One possible idea would be to give product "ownership" to an associate. Maybe pay a small commission on the sale of each item in this associate's "store," thus guaranteeing that a real person with a vested interest will make sure all marketing channels are covered. As it stands now, this universal remote seems to be an orphan.
Denny Hatch, contributing editor, consultant and freelance copywriter, is the author of the books "Method Marketing" and (with Don Jackson) "2,239 Tested Secrets for Direct Marketing Success." Visit him online at wwwmethodmarketing.com.