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Traditional marketing channels still top them all according to Targetbase survey

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Marketers can celebrate after seeing online shopping gains on both Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving shopping bonanza, and Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving weekend and one of the year’s biggest Internet shopping days.

Even though online sales continue to grow, a new study from Targetbase reminds marketers not to forget some old standbys, such as catalogs. According to the survey of more than 300 online shoppers, more “traditional” holiday gift-idea sources such as window shopping (46%) and catalogs (45%) still beat Web sites (32%), online advertisements (15%) and e-mails (14%). Going directly to the source (for instance, asking the recipient what they would like) (67%) is what most survey takers planned to do. “What really surprised me is that this was an online sample—these are people who are doing their buying online,” said Scott Bailey, exec VP-strategy at Targetbase. “I expected that they would prefer online, but they don’t.”

To David Frankland, senior analyst at Forrester Research, database marketers are just now learning to marry the learning channels such as catalog and window shopping with the purchase channels such as the Web. “A few years ago, when the Internet became a real commerce channel, a lot of retailers cut down on catalog mailings and beefed up their Web sites,” he said. “But then sales plummeted so now they’re beefing up their catalogs again.”

Bailey said that catalogs are on the rise, but changing drastically. “These aren’t the 1,000-page Sears behemoths anymore,” he said. “They’re kind of sexy now.” He said that L.L. Bean’s catalog has a mountain-climbing story in it that’s written by a company employee. If the reader wants more information on the climb, they are directed to the Web site. “They’ve achieved the goal,” Bailey said. “The Web site is where the purchases take place. It doesn’t matter how people get there. Catalogs aren’t out of vogue; they simply serve a different role than they used to.”

Cyber Monday was helped by database marketing, says Bernice Grossman, president of DMRS Group, a database marketing consultancy. “Before there was a cyber anything, we just used our databases to help target our mail,” she said. “Now we can slice and dice it in all sorts of ways to figure out the most effective way to get a message across.” Grossman also said that smart marketers are using their databases to geographically target holiday shoppers and running television, radio and newspaper advertisements in areas with the most high-traffic shopping. “You have a lot of channels that you can use that ultimately create cyber Mondays,” she says. “Marketers can’t just stick up a Web site; they have to take advantage of every channel available to them and heavy-up where they should.”

Frankland agreed: “Marketers are starting to socialize their database,” he said. “The database is starting to determine where there will be stores, where ads will be bought or what materials will be in which stores. “

Frankland also said that Cyber Monday may not have even been the biggest online shopping day of the Thanksgiving weekend. According to AlertSite, which is tracking response times and availability for 20 top online retail sites during the holiday selling season, online traffic was within expectations on Cyber Monday but got busiest on Thanksgiving night. Some sites, such as bestbuy.com, couldn’t be accessed by 75% of the customers who tried to visit because of traffic overload. CompUSA.com couldn’t be reached by 25% of its visitors that evening. Also, according to Nielsen//NetRatings, more people shopped from home the day after Thanksgiving than from their work desks Monday morning. Unique visitors to the Holiday eShopping Index—which comprises more than 120 online marketers—from home Black Friday totaled 19.2 million, outnumbering the 16.1 million unique visitors from work on Cyber Monday.

“I think savvier marketers are starting to leverage customer databases better so there are plenty of contacts and cross channels and they don’t have to depend on such things as Cyber Mondays,” Frankland said.

To Bailey, the lesson to direct marketers from the survey is that “the old channels don’t get thrown away,” he said. “No matter how many new channels get created, they all need to be integrated and used.”

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