Chapters.ca plots category domination

What is it?...

What is it?

Put simply, it’s one of Canada’s leading online retailers. An offshoot of Etobicoke, Ont.-based bookselling giant Chapters, the site began life in 1998 as ChaptersGlobe.com, a partnership effort with The Globe and Mail. That first incarnation lasted only a few months, however, and in April 1999 the site was rechristened Chapters.ca.

While the online venture has consumed considerable resources, it has also been a source of some pride for a company that otherwise has struggled through some fairly public difficulties. Chapters has predicted that the site will be profitable in the fiscal year ending in March 2002.

What does the brand stand for?

From the outset, Chapters.ca has enjoyed the luxury of being hitched to a high-profile bricks-and-mortar brand. ‘Having millions of people already know Chapters gave us a big leg up over pure Internet start-ups,’ says Warren Cable, general manager of Chapters Online.

Launched in 1995 following the merger of Coles and SmithBooks, Chapters now has 77 stores throughout Canada. And with its emphasis on convenience and selection, the big-box chain has helped set new standards for book retailing in this country. (For the record, it has also struggled financially, and is now the focus of a hostile takeover bid by Trilogy Retail Enterprises, a company formed by financier Gerald Schwartz and Heather Reisman, head of rival bookseller Indigo.)

The Web site is designed to offer an experience consistent with the one that customers have when they enter a Chapters store. Cable says the in-house development team was charged with ‘keeping it as simple and intuitive as possible for customers to quickly navigate, to find the product they want and complete their transaction.’ And simplicity has become even more crucial as Chapters.ca has broadened its product offerings, adding videos, DVDs, electronics, software and video games to its original selection of books and recorded music.

The distinctly Canadian identity of the site is also an important part of the brand personality. This has been underlined in some of its advertising and, more subtly, in the design of its logo – a red-on-white image of an open door that is meant to evoke the Canadian flag.

How has the site branded itself?

A massive multi-media campaign, created by Toronto-based BBDO Canada, introduced the Chapters.ca site to Canadian consumers in the spring of 1999. A coast-to-coast effort concentrated in urban centres, it targeted both traditional book buyers and online shoppers. Cable says the goal was to get consumers thinking that, as an extension of Chapters, the site is by definition the category leader in this country.

For the 1999 holiday season, which it touted as ‘Canada’s first e-Christmas,’ Chapters.ca pulled out all the stops, positioning itself as the perfect alternative to fighting the mall crowds. It teamed with Canada Post to offer free express postage on orders over $25, added holiday-themed home page features and introduced such services as downloadable electronic gift certificates and free gift-wrapping.

The site continues to maintain a high-profile advertising presence in the marketplace. Last fall saw a major radio and outdoor campaign designed to highlight its expanded product range. The media strategy included a dominance effort in Toronto’s Union Station, whereby Chapters.ca took over every single advertising space in the building.

Strategic alliances form another key part of the branding strategy. Chapters.ca has a presence on a number of leading Canadian portal sites, including Yahoo.ca, AOL.ca, MSN.ca, Canada.com and Canoe. There’s also a network of more than 9,000 affiliated sites, both large and small. Each receives a commission for linking customers to Chapters.ca.

Other major partners range from ChumCity Interactive, which has partnered with the site on various cross-promotions, to Ticketmaster Canada, which not only provides links to Chapters.ca on its own Web site, but includes ads for it on the backs of concert tickets as well.

As if consumers didn’t see enough of the Web site brand already, they also bump into it when they’re in Chapters stores. The retailer has placed kiosks in its bricks-and-mortar locations that let customers log on to order items unavailable in-store.

What have the results been?

Last month, Ernst & Young’s Global Online Retail Study named Chapters.ca the top Canadian e-commerce site over the previous 12 months in terms of consumer purchasing.

Chapters.ca now attracts more than two million hits per week, and enjoys the highest consumer awareness of any Canadian e-commerce site, according to research by Toronto-based Kubas Consultants. In all, the site claims more than 820,000 customers, 63% of whom are repeat buyers.

Also in this report:

- Strong identities few and far between: With the rare exception, Canadian Web branding remains at an early stage in its evolution p.18

- Grocery Gateway builds ‘total brand personality’: Online grocer communicates consistent image at every point of customer contact p.18

- Sympatico makes itself useful: Relevance a key point of differentiation p.21

- CBC.ca leverages mother corp’s equity p.23