Branding: The Integrated Shopper
REI's catalog and website are clean, well-organized and easy to shop. As I was looking at both the catalog and site at the same time — which is how most consumers do it — I encountered no inconsistencies or problems. The website offered further details and made the shopping experience pleasant.
But its stores have always been what REI is known for. They allow you to experience the products and try them out — strap on the gear and tackle the climbing wall. The enthusiasm of the employees shines through, too. If REI could bottle that store experience and somehow translate it to the pages of the catalog and website, it would have a perfect trifecta. But until then, I give it a B+.
Cabela's targets a different kind of outdoor enthusiast. It focuses on hunting, fishing and outdoor gear. It also claims to be the world's foremost outfitter, and when you browse its catalog and website and walk into one of its stores, you can see why. Cabela's has more products, more choices, more categories … more of everything. It's a bit overwhelming. Selection is a good thing, but I actually got lost on its website and in its store. Not good.
An advantage Cabela's has over many brands is that it understands its customer like no other. In fact, many of the friendly, knowledgeable staffers at the stores and on the phone are actual customers who love the brand so much they've chosen to work there. Chances are, if these folks aren't working, they're standing in a stream somewhere casting their reels, wearing gear they bought at their own Cabela's. All brands can learn something from this: Know your customers intimately, and then invite them to be a part of the experience.
Cabela's has many catalogs for a variety of categories, but I focused on the Christmas '09 catalog. It does a good job of grouping items within themed categories: gifts less than $100, gifts less than $50, gifts for her, etc. But the arrangement and organization of the products within those categories seem haphazard. What's more, every page has a multicolored border combined with a textured background. These pages are crowded enough with dense product. Don't make it worse by adding more elements!