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May 24, 2005updated 19 Aug 2016 10:11am

Man on Littlewoods Cover Shock

News has broken that after 72 years of its catalogues, Littlewoods will for the first time be putting a man on its cover. Quite a change for the company, but not nearly such a change as has been inflicted on Littlewoods and other catalogue

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News has broken that after 72 years of its catalogues, Littlewoods will for the first time be putting a man on its cover. Quite a change for the company, but not nearly such a change as has been inflicted on Littlewoods and other catalogue suppliers by the Internet.

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The catalogue retail market has been dealt a hammer blow by consumers swapping to online shopping. Market research published last month found that sales from catalogues were actually outstripped by Internet purchases for the first time last year in the UK. Analyst firm Mintel said that 32% of shoppers had made an online purchase, while the number of people buying from a mail order catalogue fell from 53% to just 25%.

The analyst firm highlighted the advantages of Internet shopping as being the ability to shop during office hours, and said that catalogues are now seen as "old-fashioned and down market". But the decision by Littlewoods to put a bloke on the front cover of their catalogue serves to highlight another major difference between catalogues and the Web: catalogues cannot easily be personalized.

For instance, in the online world, a website could display a man in the latest garb to male visitors, and a woman – as per the Littlewoods tradition – for female visitors, based on their previous shopping history. Of course it might alternatively choose to show a woman to the male customers and a man to the female customers, but that’s not the point. Littlewoods must decide weeks in advance of publication of its catalogue who to have on the cover, and to keep costs low can only print one cover for all of its customers.

The personalization features that websites like Amazon have developed not only make shopping on those sites easier and more fun, but they also help Amazon to cross-sell jazz CDs to a customer who has just put a book on Miles Davis in their virtual shopping trolley. Littlewoods can’t move pages around in its catalogue to cross-sell products like that.

There are many more features that a website like Amazon can offer that just can’t be replicated in a catalogue. But Littlewoods’ decision to put a man on its front cover for the first time in 72 years – and the fact that could help or hinder its own sales next month but that it won’t be able to do anything about it until the next catalogue is published – does show just how difficult it is for the catalogues now they are up against the dot-coms.

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