Catalog Watch--Prospecting Online
By Steve Trollinger
In the past three years, the Internet has gone from being the answer to cataloging—the way companies were going to cut costs and grow profits by eliminating paper catalogs—to being recognized as a sound marketing channel within an established mix of response media.
Today, many catalogers have learned that the Web offers an efficient way for customers to find more information, place orders or check an order's status. Not unlike previous technological advancements, companies scrambled to get on board with the Web and touted all of its glorious, paradigm-shifting wonderment before finally understanding the limitations of the technology and incorporating what worked into an existing framework. Opportunities for Internet advertising and customer acquisition are constantly being explored, but most companies today are trying to make the Internet fit into a proven framework for success.
Still getting on-board
When it comes to prospecting for new customers online, most catalogers continue to have mixed results mostly on the poor side. Traditional banner ads still get very low click-throughs and, not surprisingly, very few orders. Advancements in banner technology and increased bandwidth will no doubt produce spikes in overall banner effectiveness, but most customers still find banner ads annoying—whether the ads fly across their screens or not.
Portal sites, shopping sites, communities, affiliate programs and rented e-mail lists all are being used to build the catalogers' e-customer files. While each method has its pros and cons, the real measurement of "success"—return on investment—is hard to put a finger on. Too often, the metrics of online cataloging and direct marketing success are overlooked in place of gross performance—catalogers are so excited to see that 20 percent of revenues is coming from the Internet that they fail to adequately evaluate the overall impact of those sales.
Missing the forest for the trees