Shopping catalogs have an illustrious past. But today's catalog businesses could learn a lot from their early forerunners — because they knew exactly how to delight entirely different groups of customers, all at the same time.
The catalog concept dates back to around 500 years ago, when price lists of books and seeds were first published. In fact, Benjamin Franklin is believed to have been the first cataloguer in British America producing a catalog of scientific and academic books in 1744. But things really took off in 1845 when Tiffany and Co released a catalog called the ‘Blue Book’. Montgomery Ward followed in 1872, Eaton (Canada) in 1875, and Sears Roebuck in 1894. It was not until 1963 that JC Penney entered the catalog arena.
An affordable, uniform postal service, improving railway links and an increase in people’s disposable income meant these entrepreneurs could suddenly reach shoppers everywhere — posting catalog, receiving orders and then sending goods.
Omnichannel customer service, 19th century style
We don't know the details, but even then, shopping experiences would have varied enormously. Some country folk who couldn't read would have needed others to explain the products, take their money and submit the orders. Wealthy families would doubtless have had trusted servants to take care of purchases. And it's highly plausible the armed forces dispatched their bulk orders by telegraph.
Omnichannel customer service today
If these early, low-tech enterprises could do business with a fragmented marketplace back then, surely today's catalog companies can manage it with ease? Even to the extent of rivalling Amazon Prime and Google Express.
The secret is all about engaging with different groups of customers using the channels they prefer —and improving the service they receive. Here's what we mean...
Older customers: This audience often values printed catalog and being able to place orders over the phone, making secure payments. But if your agents are busy, then Call-Back means you don't lose the sale. Alternatively, if silver surfers are trying to buy online, then your agents could help them to complete their orders using Co-Browsing.
Youth market: Millennials and other younger customers will often place orders via mobile sites, so it's vital you can offer secure mobile payments. And if they're Apple Pay for almost everything else in their lives, they'll be delighted if you can offer this service. As for needing help, this audience would prefer an instant response from you via a Social Media Agent or Web Chat. In fact, it's now possible to complete transactions during Web Chat sessions using Web Chat Pay.
Wider audiences: Catalog businesses reached new heights when they connected with international customers. Using today's Omnichannel tools, it's far easier to communicate with overseas audiences as well domestic customers whose first language isn't English. Natural Speech Recognition in 80 languages can simplify interaction with callers, while tools like Social Media Agent can engage with customers across multiple online channels in more than 160 languages.