Study: Catalog Buyers Shifting to Web

Consumers increasingly are shifting from direct mail catalogs to online shopping, according to a new study by DoubleClick’s Abacus and @Plan units.

According to the findings, which were based on the 90 million U.S. households in Abacus’ co-op database and @Plan’s survey-based research, 67 percent of U.S. online users reported making a purchase from July 2000 to June 2001 — up from 63 percent in 2000.

Yet at the same time, average catalog order sizes declined about 5.7 percent from July 2000 to June 2001, although the number of purchasers remained roughly constant at 43 million.

Additionally, the study found that during all of 2001, 85 percent of the online population either shopped on the Web or researched purchases online, up one percent from last year. More than 64 percent of online consumers reported buying through a catalog since July, down from 69 percent in 2000.

The contraction in offline catalog revenue continues a trend detected last year, when dollars spent between 1999 and 2000 decreased about 4.5 percent, after years of growth. As a result, it’s likely that consumers with Internet access are shifting some of their purchasing to the online channel — and away from retailers’ direct marketing efforts.

“The data allows us to conclude for the first time that the decline in catalog sales is most likely due to a shift to the online order channel, along with a combination of fewer mailings and more cautious spending by consumers,” said Abacus president Brian Rainey.

For Abacus’ retail partners, the data also suggests that cross-channel marketers ought to step up their efforts to nab Web shoppers as they shift away from traditional catalog mailings.

“The data reveals a high cross-over between online and catalog, and demonstrates that catalogers require an effective strategy to acquire, retain and market to online customers,” Rainey said.

The study also found that the clothes and accessories category, in particular, experienced exceptional growth. More than 16 percent of Web purchasers bought clothing or accessories during 2001, up 3.4 percent from last year. As a result, clothing and accessories trailed only the travel and books categories as the largest online sales segments.

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