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Apr 27, 2001
Case Study

How Apparel Cataloger Chadwick's of Boston Grew Online Sales Far Above Budgeted Expectations

SUMMARY: If you are a print cataloguer interested in growing online sales, definitely check out this Case Study about Chadwick's of Boston. Our favorite results facts - sweeps campaigns have not worked, but co-registrations have.
According to a recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive and Nielsen/NetRatings, online spending on apparel rose 122.3% over the past year March 2000 to March 2001. We contacted famed discount apparel cataloger Chadwick's of Boston to learn how they took advantage of this online spending boom.


As Neal Patrick, ecommerce Manager for Chadwick's of Boston admits, the venerable cataloger was definitely not a first mover online. In fact the company didn't launch its Web site until late 1999, so Patrick had a lot of ground to make up in order to make his sales budget in an already noisy marketplace.


First things first. Patrick immediately coordinated with the print Chadwick's catalog that millions of American women aged 25-55 receive about every two weeks. The Web URL is noted throughout the catalog, and the very first option on the site's navigation bar is "Order by Item #". Items have a different number in the print catalog than they do online, so Chadwick's can track where the sale originated.

Two-three months after the site launched, Patrick began regular email marketing to support it. The email schedule was somewhat coordinated around the catalog mail schedule. Patrick says, "We looked at the catalog mailing calendar and then matched our outbound email calendar to that as a first pass. Then we tweaked things here and there to make sure the customer wasn't getting too many emails. The biggest piece of the business [the catalog] is going to drive the way the smaller piece of business operates." Patrick chose Responsys to power his email campaigns.

Whenever possible the art and offer in the email matches the current catalog cover. Sometimes though, photographs that look great in print just don't work in email. In this case, the email team uses the catalog's cover concept as a "starting point" for email creative.

Similar to the catalogs, emails are very focused on product offers. Each email gives fairly brief information on three to four items. Buyers must click through to the site (itself not remarkably copy-heavy) to get sizing and color option specifics. Patrick tested heavier copy, but learned "The main thing online is to be consistent with our catalog's brand. When we even slightly steer away from that, the responses go down. We're not J. Peterman or Lands End. The photos sell our products, the price sells it. 'Here's a blazer and it's only $25, you can't beat it!' That's what we try and focus on. If we get too enamored with copy, it doesn't work."

Chadwick's grew its strictly opt-in email list by placing two email update offers on the site (one on the navigation bar and one on the harder-to-find catalog request form); by testing a sweeps offering; through viral pass-alongs; and, by testing co- registration offers through and PageWise. (To learn more about co-registration see the links at the end of this story.)

Following the example of many Web-only stores, Chadwick's also launched affiliate programs through Commission Junction in 2000. Patrick decided to offer a 10% sales commission to affiliates; and, encourages affiliate sales by personally keeping in touch with the very biggest while sending a regular newsletter to the rest.


Yes, Patrick definitely beat his sales goals. He says, "The growth has been so fast and so far above our expectations that we're still watching and waiting for it to slow down! We just didn't expect the adoption rate to be that fast."

Patrick's current, adjusted goal is to match the percent of online-to-total sales that catalogers who've been online much longer are experiencing. He says, "A lot of catalogers are at 20%. We are not there yet, but we've only been online for a year and a half, and I'm surprised at how far we've gotten!"

He adds, "You look at online-only companies and how hard a time they had getting customers to adopt and buy from them. It shows the brand has everything to do with it."

Here's what worked for

- The biggest bulk of buyers come directly from the print catalog. (Remember Patrick uses different item numbers so he could track these sales carefully.)

- The affiliate program is the second biggest driver of online sales.

- Patrick's average email to Chadwick's opt-in subscribers gets results in the low double digits. He says, "We're pretty happy with that." In fact, emails are the third largest sales driver.

- Patrick says, "Pretty much any opt-in name we get is profitable." The best places to get names have been his own site (surprisingly the harder-to-find catalog request form pulls far more opt-ins than the straight forward email offer on the navigation bar) and co-registration offers on other sites.

In fact co-registration has worked so well, that Patrick says he found the omission of co-registration from a recent Wall Street Journal article detailing ecommerce traffic generation tactics to be "very surprising." His most successful co-registration campaign has been with PageWise.

- Sweeps didn't work that well, in fact Patrick has moved away from them for now. He does get some viral email pass-along "in the hundreds" but notes that pass-along email recipients are more likely to click on links back to the store than the original email recipients.

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