June 03, 2012

Dear Catalog CEOs: Content

Dear Catalog CEOs:

Have you had a chance to read this little ditty about the book industry, in the NYTimes (click here)?

It sounds like authors are being stretched ... audiences have an insatiable desire for content.

I want to create a contrast for you.

I recently overheard this comment from an Executive at a conference:
  • "We simply don't have anything to tell the customer.  We mail a monthly catalog, and by month five of a season, we've beaten every possible story over the head of the customer.  Our customers are bored.  We're just trying to get to a new merchandising season.  At that time, we'll have a new series of catalogs ready to go."
And I recently overheard this comment from an Executive at a conference:
  • "We have sixteen sales a day.  Sixteen!  And each sale is time-limited.  We work with our merchants and inventory team to come up with concepts that stimulate the customer, that cause the customer to act, today.  The customer wants to be told what to do.  That's what we do.  As long as we're in a good inventory position, we can create a sale today and put it up on the site today."
There is something about cataloging that reduces urgency.  Everything is planned.  Everything is planned months in advance.  The DNA embedded in a catalog employee is pre-disposed to thoughtfulness, carefulness, planfulness, steadiness.

The multi-channel movement of the past decade sure didn't help us, in this respect, did it?  Everything had to be integrated across channels, so any ability to be nimble online was squelched by the need to integrate with a catalog that would be mailed months later.

Maybe it is time to reconsider the content we publish.

Maybe it is time to be nimble, to create urgency, to trust a different set of employees with a different set of skills to drive business.



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