July 08, 2007

Incremental Online Sales: Williams Sonoma

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Catalog purists looking for a poster child for catalog productivity need look no further than Williams Sonoma.

Williams Sonoma is a multi-brand retailer with stores contributing the majority of sales.

The best part about Williams Sonoma is that they openly share catalog and online information in their annual reports. In addition to sales information, management tells us what percentage of online sales are believed to be incremental to the business, verses the percentage driven by catalog mailings.

During the past four years, Williams Sonoma estimates that 45%, 40%, 40% and 55% of online sales are truly incremental during 2006, 2005, 2004 and 2003.

The graphic at the beginning of this article restates catalog and online sales during the past four years, given the estimates management provides us.

This means that, since 2003, the following trends have occurred:
  • Telephone Sales decreased by 13%, an annual drop of about four percent.
  • Online Sales increased by 138%, an annual increase of about thirty-three percent.
  • True Catalog Sales increased by 26%, about eight percent per year.
  • True Online Sales increased by 95%, about thirty percent per year.
  • Catalogs Mailed increased by 15%, about five percent per year.
  • Catalog Pages Circulated increased by 35%, about eleven percent per year.
The comparison that "seems reasonable" is a 26% increase in true catalog sales on a 35% increase on catalog pages circulated. This ratio is about what one would expect to observe, given an annual increase in inflation of 3%.

In other words, Williams Sonoma is observing a true catalog productivity decrease (26% increase in sales on a 35% increase in pages circulated), though the change is reasonable.

If we can believe the estimates Williams Sonoma provides in their annual reports, this suggests that management is managing the the catalog and online sales transition in a reasonable manner. Non-competitive businesses could/should speak with Williams Sonoma management about how they are approaching this "channel-shift" challenge.