Notes from a Conversation with Jeff Seger, New Media Analyst, LL Bean.

Using WWW as a retailing medium

Q. What has the impact on sales been to date via WWW?
The sales to date have been very small, compared to traditional catalog sales. The current scenario is very similar to when the telephone was introduced to catalog sales about 15 years or so ago. Customers did not feel secure giving their credit card number over the telephone. So although it was an option, it took a while for the telephone to really impact business. In the future, online sales should grow significantly as customers feel more confortable using WWW as a retailing medium, and feel confortable with the level of security of making online purchases. WWW will not replace the telephone, as the telephone has mail, but it will become a significant source of revenue as more and more people come on-line, and as the internet is demystified.

Q. What are the advantages of using WWW as a marketing medium?
Although retail sales are still small compared with traditional retail sales (catalog) there are many advantages of using the WWW for LL Bean. There is potential for substantial cost savings. While the cost of developing a web-page is similar to the cost of developing a page for the regular catalog, there is no unit cost associated with printing the WWW page (to LL Bean). The page is hosted on the server, for customers to interact with and print. There are no mailing costs, and updating the page requires comparatively little additional development cost.

It is easier to change the WWW catalog as the seasons change. When a new traditional catalog is required it has to be printed and mailed to the customers. Old catalogs that customers may have become dated quickly, and products may no longer be in stock. With the web catalog, if a product is no longer in stock, it is removed from the catalog immediately (or at least in an ideal world it is!)

Incorrect information in the traditional catalog cannot be changed until the next catalog is printed. The WWW catalog can be changed as soon as a mistake is identified.

Customer service can also be impacted in a number of ways. While new skills are needed for CS reps, primarily written communications skills for answering email, information that could not be easily conveyed in a printed catalog can be given up-front on the website, thereby reducing returns and inquiry calls.

Q. Do you recognize WWW transactions closed outside of WWW?
Yes. The actual 1-800 # published on our web-site is different from the 1-800 # in our catalog. Thus all transactions from that number are as a result of our web-site. We also use use different product ID numbers in the two media, thus we can track orders through our paper catalog 1-800# that originated from someone browsing online. This is important for tracking our international customers who cannot use our WWW 1-800 #

Q. What have you done to "market" your WWW catalog?
So far, we have only tested the waters a bit in terms of promoting our site on the Web itself, and are promoting the site in our printed catalogs as well as in our print advertising. The results of those promotions have led us to believe that there is tremendous potential for promoting the site, and you'll probably see more of it in the future. There is a plenty in the news about advertising and how effective or ineffective it is on the web, but this just highlights the importance of careful selection of advertising sites and good planning in an advertising campaign.

We have also tried to keep the same high level of graphic look and feel that we have in our catalogs. When you come to the site, you know that it is LL Bean you are seeing.