U.K. Companies Embrace New Computer Marketing Technology

January 8, 2000

London – Sales experts agree that computer technologies, including CD-ROM and Website, have become essential to the international fabric trade. Those embracing this technology have the advantage of speed and accuracy in sampling and insist they are demonstrating their determination to remain ahead of the competition in today's global marketplace.

Industry sales representatives are grateful for the CD-ROM because it can be more easily brought along on business trips. At exhibitions, the CD-ROM can display images on a VDU or a laptop with selected pages being automatically turned. The CD can also be given to interested visitors, allowing them to consider buying in the relative quiet of their home or office. In terms of marketing, companies report that the CD-ROM has improved contact with all areas of the trade from the designer to the stockist and the end user.

''The CD-ROM has helped us solve the problem of how to put our wide range of materials, including our flame-retardant products, before designers and particularly new customers,'' said Tony Attard, Managing Director of Lancashire-based supplier Panaz, one of the pioneers of the CD-ROM in the fabrics industry. ''It was not possible to send everyone a set of pattern books. A CD-ROM is much more manageable, and it gets results.''

But the nature of the industry dictates a slow conversion to modern marketing methods. It's likely that buyers and specifiers will never forfeit the tactile approach to fabric selection. Thus, the new tools are often used along with the more traditional tool — the pattern book.

''We use our CD-ROM in conjunction with our pattern books,'' said Matthew Crew, Director of Marketing at Sussex-based Crowson, ''because many customers still like to touch and feel the cloth. The impact of the CD-ROM is only recently beginning to be felt in the U.K. home furnishings sector.''

Some companies such as Bournemouth-based Monkwell find it practical to use the technology in small doses. Monkwell's CD-ROM was initially an experiment and features only two of the company's ranges. But Marketing Manager Donna Sheehan said that the company received a great deal of positive feedback on the CD from clients and as a result, an updated version covering a much broader range of the company's collections is being prepared.

But companies like Panaz and Crowson have quickly begun using the technology for a multitude of purposes. In addition to presenting fabric ranges and other product information, the CDs have the capacity to perform what is known technically as ''mapping.'' This process allows viewers to impose onto a piece of furniture, a wall, accessories or an entire room, designs selected from a company's range of products. Customers then have the opportunity to visualize the finished room using their chosen fabrics. This, say its proponents, inspires confidence in buyers and minimizes costly mistakes in ordering inappropriate fabrics.

Once selected from the CD library, fabric samples can be ordered immediately using order forms included with the CDs which can be downloaded and either faxed or E-Mailed to the supplier. Samples selected by customers from the CD ranges are dispatched anywhere in the world, usually within 48 hours. The client can then touch and feel the fabric samples, make the final decision and place an order.

The obvious affect of the technology is its acceleration of the ordering process. It has also reduced the bulk and cost of shipping pattern books all over the world, as shipping the books requires protective packaging and considerable carriage costs. Attard estimates it costs $1000 to send his company's twelve pattern books to America — and sometimes the customer is considering only one pattern for purchase.

Because speed and convenience are primely important to today's customers, the Internet is also becoming a valued business tool to suppliers. Websites give potential customers easy access from anywhere they can secure an online connection. Features of the sites include the option to select various criteria such as style, color, pattern, product code, collection name and even price range.

''The Internet is the perfect medium for the Design Library element of our CD-ROM, enabling consumers to view and choose fabrics at their leisure, in the comfort of their own home,'' explained Crew. ''Users will then be able to order samples and access information about nearest stockist at the touch of a button.'' Crowson is currently working on a completely interactive Website.

British textile firms are embracing — albeit slowly — these modern means of marketing, demonstrating that CD-ROM, together with E-Mail, fax and a Website, make for accurate and speedy selection and ordering.

Once people become more familiar with the technology, the potential for expression of creative ideas through the it is virtually unlimited. F&FI

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