By  on May 25, 2005

DALLAS — Multichannel merchants are seeking to tap the power of the store, catalogue and Internet triumvirate to improve market share, strengthen fashion trend statements and bolster the bottom line.

Retailers such as J. Crew, J.C. Penney and Nordstrom are using a range of marketing and merchandising strategies, such as e-mail promotions, online catalogues, in-store catalogue kiosks, sales circulars, sales associate referrals and exclusive merchandise.

The strategies are helping to solidify proprietary store brands, underscore destination fashion offerings, drive traffic to fashion catalogues and Web sites and, more important, play up the synergies among the three channels.

While not abandoning catalogue businesses, some retailers have refocused direct mail in favor of building Web or physical store growth. In fact, retailers such as Neiman Marcus, Macy's, Penney's and J. Crew view multichannel integration as a top priority in their growth strategies, and they want to link stores, catalogues and the Web as symbiotic and unified destinations in consumers' minds.

"Multichannel integration is a must for survival in today's retail landscape," said Nita Rollins, executive director of marketing at Resource Interactive in Columbus, Ohio, a marketing and technology firm that helps companies plan, build and assess Internet-related data.

Catalogue sales are projected to grow by about 6 percent annually and to reach $175 billion by 2008, according to the Direct Marketing Association, New York, which provides information and services to direct marketers and consumers.

E-commerce sales in 2004 were $117 billion, up 26 percent from $93.2 billion in 2003, according to The E-Tailing Group, Chicago, which provides strategic planning and consulting services for online merchants, noting that the Internet is moving up as the preferred channel for sales spurred by catalogue recipients — and that cross-channel shoppers actually constitute the majority of all online consumers, including 65 percent of shoppers in 2004.

Not surprisingly, pure-play merchants are becoming an anachronism. About 6 percent of store retailers operate in only one channel, according to the Aberdeen Group, Boston, a computer and communications market research and consulting firm. Aberdeen found that 44.7 percent of retailers have three channels of store, catalogue and Internet, with one-quarter having integrated systems across all channels.

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