HIGH OR LOW? WHAT PRODUCT DENSITY IS RIGHT FOR YOUR CATALOG?
First published on RetailOnlineIntegration.com blog September 2014
© 2014 Susan J. McIntyre
Patient: “Doc, I don t know what to do about product density in our catalog. I’m getting pushed by one faction to lower it, and by another faction to increase it. How can I know what density is the best?”
Catalog Doctor: “Product density is quite a science. What's right for one brand is wrong for another. Here are some guidelines that may help.
IS HIGHER DENSITY ALWAYS BETTER?
Many catalogers think “If you don't show it, it won't sell. So show as many products as possible”. And there's some truth to that, but there are also complications.
ADD MORE PAGES? OR MORE PRODUCTS PER PAGE?
By adding more pages you can leave per-page product density the same as you have it. But more pages cost more money. Adding more products per page to existing pages doesn't cost, at least not in the short run. But there are limitations to how many you can reasonably add.
ARE YOU GIVING EACH PRODUCT ENOUGH SPACE TO SELL IT WELL?
If a small space shows the product such that your audience can see it well enough to be interested and tell what it looks like, and if the copy is able to communicate all the features and benefits the customer needs to know in order to make a buying decision, then the minimum space to do that all that is all the space it needs.
SHOULD YOU EVER DECREASE DENSITY? SEE THIS TEST.
True story. Over the years a cataloger had been increasing density because “more products = more sales”. Finally the creative department lobbied for a low-density test. Management laughed, but let them test. To everyone's surprise, and against “common sense”, lower density won. Why?
These were complex, feature-rich products that really needed multiple images and longer copy to sell well. Giving each product the room it needed to tell the product story, fewer products per page out-sold many products per page where the smaller space had lacked each product's story. Customers needed more information to make a buying decision, and when they had that information, more of them bought.
“HOW DO I KNOW HOW MUCH SPACE MY PRODUCTS NEED?”
Look at your Square Inch reports (discussed last month). If a product is earning enough in revenue to generate profit on a full page, give it a full page. If it earns enough to only generate profit on a 1/9th of a page, only give it 1/9th.
“BUT HOW CAN I BE SURE MY SQINCH IS TELLING ME THE OPTIMAL SPACE?”
Study each product. If you think that top-selling item would do just as well in less space, test the lower space and see if sales hold up. How about that great product that just never seems to sell as well as you think it could? Does it need more photos, or more copy, or callouts, etc? Give it a test — if those changes don't help, drop the space back down or dump the product.
“SHOULD EVERY PAGE HAVE THE SAME DENSITY?”
No, that's boring. Many users will lose interest and never see the whole book. It's better to shake up the look throughout the book. One good way is to alternate high density spreads with low density spreads. Another is to put a dense page opposite a full-page product. Or combine both methods.
“I CAN'T AFFORD MUCH TESTING, ARE THERE ANY RULES OF THUMB INSTEAD?”
Yes. Is your brand very upscale? Lower density will help to communicate quality and higher price points. Do you sell very budget-conscious products? Higher density will help communicate great value for lower prices.
And remember to vary density both to maximize square inch profit, and to keep the catalog interesting. Even a luxury catalog can support a few high-density pages, and even a low-priced catalog can support a low-density splash spread or two.