Did the Internet kill store catalogs? Nope. Not at $275 billion a year. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t huge opportunities. Meet CoffeeTable. Coffee Table is the only app where you can browse catalogs anywhere – online and offline – and make your purchase through a secure in-app checkout. SFFT spoke with Peri Kadaster, the VP of Marketing to learn more about how CoffeeTable has become a leader in an industry ripe full of possibilities for disruption. This Part I of a two Part Interview.
1. The CoffeeTable founders don’t have a background in store catalogs, so what opportunities did they see that led them to launch CoffeeTable?
CoffeeTable was initially founded by two e-commerce entrepreneurs, Chris Friedland and David Berman. They continue to helm build.com, a $300 million dollar home goods website (second to home depot), and have been leaders in e-commerce since the industry’s infancy.
Interestingly though, the inspiration for CoffeeTable actually came from the shopper perspective. Chris saw his wife’s many stacks of current and dated catalogs (they live in Chico, California, so often relied on catalogs as many brand stores were not to be found nearby). Chris was tired of the clutter on his CoffeeTable and wondered why all of these beautiful paper lookbooks couldn’t be consolidated in a single app. That’s the genesis of CoffeeTable.
Very quickly, with the original founders’ backgrounds in e-commerce and CEO / Co-Founder Ben Choi’s expertise in retail and mobile, CoffeeTable became an industry leader in transitioning catalogs to the tablet experience. With the world’s largest catalog printer and service provided, RR Donnelley, leading its Series A round, CoffeeTable literally is the world’s expert in digitizing retail catalogs.
2. Can you describe some of your brand/retailer partners and your user base? Not the secret details, but to give our readers some idea of how CoffeeTable works, the products you sell, and your community of consumers?
CoffeeTable is a destination – it’s a virtual mall on your iPad. Our promise to our shoppers is that you’ll find what you love, and love what you find.
CoffeeTable features over 100 of the world’s leading retailers, including premium brands such as Neiman Marcus, Crate and Barrel, Tory Burch, Hammacher Schlemmer, West Elm, Horchow, ModCloth, Yankee Candle, Lenox, Merrell, Athleta, RedEnvelope, Lands’ End and countless others across over a dozen categories ranging from gadgets to apparel to home & garden. CoffeeTable is also committed to featuring smaller boutique and/or regional brands – with catalogs like Signals, Uncommon Goods, Naked Princess, Chesapeake Bay Crab Cakes and many more – to continue being a source of discovery and inspiration for all shoppers.
How does it work? Simple. CoffeeTable shoppers get started on the Showcase screen, a scrolling marquee of the latest catalogs and exclusive deals that CoffeeTable is providing. From there, shoppers can hop around the “What’s New” tab (with sweepstakes, sales, and more), to their customized “Subscriptions” and “Wishlist” pages to find the catalogs they digitall dogeared and products they’ve saved for later. When they find something they want to buy, shoppers simply tap on a product on the screen. Many of our brands feature “Express Checkout,” meaning CoffeeTable account holders can purchase in just two taps directly in the app (I call this “dangerous…”). With new catalogs and Coffee-Table only sales added literally every day, shoppers start (or end) their day with CoffeeTable to get inspired and shop an entire mall from the comfort of their living room.
We always call our shoppers the most important member of our team – we are constantly emailing with and talking with our shoppers to learn more about what they’re looking for and how we can make CoffeeTable their preferred shopping destination. Our shoppers vary widely geographically, in age, in interest, and more. We find they are savvy and sophisticated, comfortably shopping on their iPads, but also valuing trust, safety, and ease of use. They are people with discerning taste with brands they are loyal to and excitement about discovering new stores. They like being the first in the know on retail – get the catalog digitally before it’s in the mailbox, get the sale on iPad before it hits the stores, and find that special something you may not have come across when you were searching on your laptop or window shopping in your local mall. Our shopper community is incredibly engaged with us and with each other, as we’ve seen through the volume of product “share with a friends,” facebook comments, and much more – we’re excited to be rolling out more social functionality in CoffeeTable over the coming weeks.
We are thrilled that we recently hit #1 in the Catalogs category in the App Store and are the highest rated catalog shopping app, but we are literally working around the clock to continue adding catalogs, app features, and more.
3. The store catalog industry is old and extremely successful -approximately $275 billion a year -but it’s still new to the digital space. What are some of the major challenges for brands/retail partners that CoffeeTable uniquely addresses?
Despite being over a hundred years old, catalogs are still the primary means in which retailers can perfectly merchandise their latest items to inspire and delight current and new shoppers. Retailers spend literally millions of dollars developing the perfect photos, the perfectly printed book, and find the right shoppers who will truly value their brands and their products.
Much like many other paper-based industries, catalogs are adapting to the “omnichannel” shoppers who want to be connected to their favorite brands agnostic of location and even device. CoffeeTable addresses the obvious need for retailers to reach shoppers in the new tablet medium, providing a beautiful high-resolution shopping experience in the booming iPad user base.
But catalogers continue to struggle with the age-old marketing question (holy grail, really) of – what’s the ROI? How many people actually opened this lookbook? How many products did they look at? Did they make it to the last page? And of course – did the rich catalog experience compel them to make a purchase?
CoffeeTable is the only partner that addresses all of those questions. With its unprecedented analytics, CoffeeTable can provide retailers with a literal heat map of catalog engagement, identifying trends in page views, product views, repeat views, dwell time, and much more that can finally quantify the efficacy of the catalog creative.
4. CoffeeTable has hundreds of brands and retailers in one app. What has been the brand and retailer response to sharing screen space?
Great question, and one that has certainly been a top-of-mind consideration for us as we’ve added over a hundred brands in the last six months alone. In short, our retail partners see tremendous value in being “merchandised” along side other retailers and even categories within CoffeeTable. We have been able to show them the value of being a part of a broad catalog platform, as we are driving a significant user base with very high retention rates to their brands by leveraging the diversity of other brands. We constantly hear from our shoppers that they come to the app for one retailer but often wind up browsing or even buying from other retailers as well – helping our retailers better understand the needs and behaviors of our shopper.
Many of our retailers have individual apps for their brands and even their catalogs – we certainly support their brand building initiatives on tablet, we’ve even co-marketed many of their apps – but consistently we hear the same thing. It’s a small base of people who opt in to a single-brand app, and once they open a catalog, there’s no real reason to return until the next catalog issue drops, which could be a month or a year. That’s a lot of internal resources, budget, engineering, and bandwidth to invest on, frankly, a low return. And that’s why retailers keep coming to CoffeeTable – we help them test their tablet strategy with literally no risk or fixed cost.
We value the shoppers of each brand independently – for example, we send shoppers targeted messaging regarding catalogs they “subscribe” to, but do not cross-promote them with competitive brands. We maintain the integrity of each brand while providing a wide assortment to keep people coming back. How do we make this happen? Internally, we provide each retailer with a dedicated brand manager who is constantly measuring that retailer’s performance to ensure we are hitting specific goals, milestones, and other strategic priorities. We value these retailer relationships as we see them as an extension of our own team, which is why we call them our “partners.”
In short – there is a reason to visit CoffeeTable every single day (and more than once at that). We are literally constantly adding content, providing sweepstakes, and delivering sales so that the CoffeeTable shopper is always getting at least price parity – if not an exclusive deal! – with the retailer’s own website and sales. We are a virtual mall of hundreds of catalogs. Response from retailers to the wide array of brands displayed together on our “Showcase” screen and the rest of our platform has been incredibly enthusiastic.
5. Going back to the store catalog industry, some companies have a mission and products to “kill” store catalogs. CoffeeTable obviously thinks store catalogs have a lot of potential. Can you tell us why you think store catalogs are a misunderstood industry? What is the state of store catalogs?
I love getting catalogs of my favorite brands in the mail and flipping through them when I’m sitting on my couch. I always go cover-to-cover through Tory Burch for next season’s shoes and handbags, Crate and Barrel for my home, and ModCloth’s beautiful e-lookbooks for clothes. Catalogs are truly the most deliberately designed source of inspiration that retailers offer.
But what else happens? Oftentimes I receive catalogs in the mail I’m not interested in, from brands that may not be targeted at me (whether because of gender or age or all of the above), and I wind up tossing those books out often before I even flip it open. This is what frustrates me and many other shoppers – the annoyance of a cluttered mailbox or a cluttered coffee table with books I didn’t want or without the benefit of that enjoyment or delight from shopping it. In this age where we are all trying to be more eco-friendly, this misalignment between brands and shoppers feels wasteful. Why can’t I just have all the catalogs I want in one place?
CoffeeTable is here not to get rid of catalogs, but quite the opposite: to get the right brands in front of the right shoppers. We provide hundreds of brands in one place, so you can “subscribe” to a catalog for the current and back issues instead of keeping a physical pile, and you can “wishlist” your favorite products instead of dog-earing pages to find later. We truly see our business as complementary to the catalog industry – we believe in the beauty and inspiration that these carefully crafted lookbooks provide shoppers, and we are hearing from our retail partners that catalogs are more popular than ever. We basically want to have these catalogs more accessible on iPad and more customizable for an increasingly discerning shopper base.
Another phenomenon is the search-based shopping behavior of the first waves of ecommerce. I want to find a book so I search for the title in Amazon. I want to get a particular coat so I click on “Outerwear” or the relevant category on one of my favorite websites. The computer-based ecommerce experience was intent-driven. You search, you evaluate, you buy. Catalogs are a bit orthogonal to this approach, which I think is what got lost up until CoffeeTable – catalogs are meant to inspire, and show you what you didn’t realize you were looking for. That excitement of discovery, that delight of a “found object,” was lost in the search-based world of ecommerce, but is back through tablet catalog shopping with CoffeeTable.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one other thing I personally think is exciting for shoppers: peace of mind about value. In this age of flash sales and coupon codes and the sheer speed at which prices can fluctuate in e-commerce, I was reluctant to buy from paper catalogs as I didn’t want to miss out if that retailer was having a sale somewhere else. Those prices in ink on the page seemed so… permanent. What I love about CoffeeTable is that we refresh our prices constantly to offer (at a minimum) price parity with the retailer’s website. No more fear of missing out on a deal – instead CoffeeTable is marrying the inspiration of a catalog with the convenience and real-time pricing of e-commerce.
Stay tuned for Part II…