AN INSIDER'S GUIDE TO CATALOG MARKETING IN THE UK AND EUROPE
As U.S. based catalogers look to expand overseas, the United Kingdom
offers an ideal testing ground for international strategies. The lan-
guage is the same--or nearly so--and the culture well known to gen-
erations of U.S. Anglophiles. As British direct-marketing consultant
Geoff Cotton explains, the British Isles can be a green and merry
paradise for savvy catalogers and a gloomy moor for those unprepared
for foreign shores.
For the past four years or so, the most frequently used phrase in
British Mail Order must have been, "The Americans are coming." Given
that the U.K. and America share the same language, similar cultures
and, we are closer geographically, Britain seemed the ideal place for
American catalog companies to start their invasion of Europe.
Lands' End tested in September '91 with apparent success and by
January '92, it was rolling out a campaign that was impressive for both
its size and its audacity. "We are Lands' End direct merchants from
America" screamed the headline on the double-page spreads throughout
the national press in the United Kingdom. The copy, beautifully con-
structed in typical Lands' End style, then went into great detail
about the history of Lands' End and their quest to build a range of
products that embodied every level of quality and comfort backed by
the now legendary Lands' End guarantee--"Guaranteed Period."
The results were fantastic. Within the short period of about three
years, Lands' End had opened an entire facility in Britain, including
warehousing, telemarketing, and a UK-based marketing team. One thing
that shines through Lands' End's operations is its staff's friendliness
and professionalism, from the tea lady to the managing director.
Surely, this is the best tribute to their philosophy, culture and most
After this success story, we in England waited for the onslaught.
True enough, along came L.L. Bean. Unlike Lands' End, however, L.L.
Bean was not successful and they quickly withdrew back to the States
to lick their wounds. It speedily became public knowledge that, unlike
its main American adversary, L.L. Bean had failed. This immediately
caused many other U.S. catalogs to shelve their plans for European
So what did L.L. Bean do wrong? Well, their recruitment campaign
was so low key, it would have been easy to miss. The ads themselves
carried a confused message, and as such did not seem targeted at any
specific market. Any potential customer would have been very hard-
pressed to work out exactly what products would be in the catalog,
and no particular expectation was set in their minds, so apathy had
already set in even before the catalog arrived.
When it did arrive, even if you found a product you wanted among
the mass on order, ordering was a nightmare. Prices were in dollars,
not pounds. You had to calculate your own shipping costs. And you even
had to calculate the taxes and the duty required for importing the
merchandise. Oh, and by the way, your order went to America, or you
phoned an American number to place it. Needless to say, not as many
people ordered as was expected.
So, what lessons can we learn from this case study? Perhaps the
most important one is that Europe, starting with the UK, can still
learn a lot about cataloging from America. Also, our markets are ready
for their wonderful specialty catalogs, but you have to follow some
1) Do not assume people know your catalog and products well enough
2) Advertise clearly and accurately what you're offering and why--
using both pictures and copy.
3) Run a smaller catalog featuring your best products, not your
entire range of merchandise.
4) Price your products in local currency.
5) Fulfill your orders in the home country.
6) Make ordering simple and easy.
7) Employ a local guide. I would recommend an agency that can
handle the entire project--strategic and creative.
8) Listen to your local guide. They should fully understand their
own market and how best to reach it.
Once Americans understand why L.L. Bean failed in their test, I am
sure that they will once again view Europe as their most significant
development opportunity and once more we will hear the cry, "The
Americans are coming."
This resource is (c) 1996 by, and excerpted from,
The Catalog Marketer, a newsletter from Maxwell Sroge Publishing.