7 Tips to Make Your Merchandise Stand Out
As one cataloger I recently interviewed called it, “terminal sameness” is the phenomenon of all catalogs blending together to look the same, particularly when it comes to product offerings. At the recent ACCM conference, a panel of catalogers led a session to help their peers break out of the mold with their merchandise assortments and avoid the “me too” syndrome.
The panelists, Emily Harris, product manager of the spa and massage division of the Scrip Cos., parent firm of the Lotus Touch catalog; Jane Schmotzer, director of product development for the Christian Tools of Affirmation catalog; and Geoff van Sonsbeeck, co-founder and owner of maternity clothing catalog Isabella Oliver, offered several takeaway tips, the following seven of which offer you the best ideas.
1. Incorporate customer research into your budget. Talk to your customers, Harris said. “You can’t put a dollar amount on the return on investment,” she said, noting that Lotus Touch saw a 40 percent increase in sales in the seven months since it budgeted money toward customer research. Learn what merchandise your customers connect with through focus groups, surveys and phone calls, among other tools.
2. Control product development expenses. Purchase buyouts of new items to test and expand your product line without having to undertake development expenses, Schmotzer said. This technique allows her to place products in the catalog at prices her customers can afford.
3. Monitor the buzz surrounding your brand. Make sure you hear what people are saying about you, van Sonsbeeck advised. Read blogs, customer reviews and online chats to find out how people feel about your brand. In fact, van Sonsbeeck admonished the audience for its lack of use of Google Alerts after a show of hands. Google Alerts, Google’s free online clipping service by topic, is an excellent way to hear what people are saying about you, he said.
4. Take a field trip to inspire creativity. Get out of the office by taking field trips to become your own customer, Harris suggested. Shop your competitors as well. Taking such trips for product development doesn’t have to be expensive, she said, because you can visit local parks and coffee shops, among other places, to inspire creativity.
5. Protect your brand. It’s critical to keep rights over your proprietary products and information, Schmotzer advised. Techniques for doing this include the following (listed from easiest and least expensive to most difficult and expensive):
* confidentiality agreements with vendors;
* copyrights for your text and artwork;
* trademarks to protect themes and category groupings; and
* protecting product designs with patents.
6. Don’t fall in love. “If a product isn’t working, don’t fall in love with it if your customer hasn’t,” van Sonsbeeck said. Measure every product in your catalog to see if it warrants the space it’s occupying. This may lead to the elimination of some of your “favorite” products, he cautioned.
7. Consider co-branding. This tactic allows you to align yourself with another strong, recognizable brand, Harris said, citing her own company’s recent partnership with Massage Warehouse as a prime example. But before entering into a co-branding agreement, do your due diligence, Harris stressed. “Learn their businesses,” she said. “Are the customers really the same? Are they going to honor your prices?”