March 2008 - Cleaning Up Online

Euro-Pro’s Shark Steam Mop is a successful product with lessons to teach.
The most important? How DRTV viewers now do their buying.

By Jack Gordon

A hit infomercial is always a joy to its sponsor, and Euro-Pro Corp. knew quickly that its half-hour show for the Shark Steam Mop was a home run. After testing last spring, a media campaign for the lightweight floor-cleaning device rolled out in June. The show climbed rapidly in rankings by Jordan Whitney and the Infomercial Monitoring Service. As of December, it was the number-one ranked infomercial in the U.S., and the Shark Steam Mop was the most successful direct response product in Euro-Pro’s history.

But Euro-Pro also got a surprise. The Newton, Mass., company markets household products such as vacuums, sewing machines and steam cleaners under the Shark label and other brand names. It has produced winning infomercials before, but never one in which so many customers chose to buy from the website rather than by calling an 800 number.

Until the steam mop show ran, no more than 15 percent of respondents to a Euro-Pro infomercial had ever bought the advertised product online, says Jeff Frankel, the company’s vice president of international and direct consumer sales. Yet, more than 32 percent of all steam mop sales have come via the web.

That represents a lot of money. As of mid-January, Frankel says, total sales from the infomercial have amounted to more than 200,000 units at an average gross per sale of about $127. That’s more than $25 million in revenue, a third of it generated online.

The challenge Euro-Pro had while creating its Shark Steam Mop infomercial was breaking through the perceived value barrier by making viewers feel as if they actually had used the mop.

The high online response rate is due in part to careful search engine optimization, but certainly not to a glamorous website for the product. Far from it, Frankel says. The dedicated site to which infomercial viewers are directed,, is a bare-bones affair, constructed on what he calls a “quick and dirty” basis in about two weeks by a low-priced vendor in India. “I’d have made the site prettier and given it more features if I had time,” he says. “But it’s giving us better performance than anything we’ve had in the past.”

Frankel suspects that the unprecedented online response rate for the Shark Steam Mop is not a peculiarity of the product or the campaign, but more a sign of the times-and a sign of things to come.

So does Paul Soltoff, CEO of SendTec Inc. in St. Petersburg, Fla. SendTec is the multichannel marketing agency that helped produce the steam mop infomercial and that handles search optimization and other aspects of online marketing for Euro-Pro. Soltoff has worked with Frankel on a number of campaigns for the past several years, during which, he says, “we have watched a paradigm shift.”

As recently as five years ago, Soltoff says, “If you put up an infomercial with a URL and a phone number, 95 percent of the activity would come in by phone. Then it went to about 10 to 14 percent online, which was great because [on the web] you have no call-center expense for inbound operators.”

But an online response upward of 30 percent? That isn’t about site design and it isn’t just about steam mops, Soltoff says. Rather, it points to a rapidly growing change in consumer behavior. “Consumers are deciding where to engage advertising, where to research products and where to buy,” he says. DRTV advertisers now routinely put URLs in their commercials, but they have grown accustomed to “looking at web sales as incremental pickup-as cream.” When a full third of an infomercial’s sales can come in via the web, he suggests, “marketers have to rethink their online strategies.”

If this much traffic is moving online, Soltoff says, DRTV advertisers “have to be in position to intercept it. And to assess it. And to measure it. Otherwise, they might not get it.”

This was an infomercial that almost didn’t happen. Steam cleaners in the past have not panned out as a steady source of business for Euro-Pro-”more of a roller coaster-some years hot, some years cold,” Frankel says. Euro-Pro’s strategy is to use infomercials to build demand for products that can be taken to retail, from which most of its business comes, so the company doesn’t look for quick-hit direct-response offerings with short lifespans.

Corporate skepticism had to be battled, and the project got underway with a bare-bones budget. But Frankel fought for this particular product because he thought it was a breakthrough device that anyone who mopped a kitchen floor would love.

Early research showed that consumers did, indeed, love the steam mop-but only after they used it. “If we just showed them the product,” Frankel says, “people said they’d pay $30 to $60 for it. For that, we couldn’t do a successful infomercial. But once they used it, they said they’d pay $80 to $130.” The challenge, he says, was to produce an infomercial that “broke through the perceived value barrier” by making viewers feel as if they actually had used the mop. “That was the challenge we gave to SendTec.”

Soltoff then suggested an additional way to break the value barrier: offer an unusually long trial period to encourage customers to use the product. To get it into the buyer’s hands, the Shark Steam Mop comes with a 60-day, money-back satisfaction guarantee. That’s risky, Soltoff admits. But he explains that Frankel believed in the product strongly enough to bet that he’d get very few returns. The bet paid off.

The original goal for the infomercial was simply that it should pay for itself by generating enough sales to cover the media costs, Frankel says. Testing showed that the most profitable offer was a three-pay of $29.95-a total of about $90. Because the hope was to drive the product to retail at a price of $79, however, Euro-Pro settled on a four-pay of $19.95.

Sacrificing a bit of today’s profit with an eye on tomorrow’s retail possibilities was a strategy that worked handsomely. The infomercial proved the steam mop’s appeal, and an international rollout to major retailers should be underway by March. A mid-January Google search on “shark steam mop” found Target stores as the number-one paid listing. Target’s link led to a promise that the mop would be in stock within a few weeks.

Euro-Pro will “drive this product deep into retail around the world,” Soltoff predicts. “You’re going to know a lot of people who own Shark Steam Mops… That’s why I love infomercials. You don’t have to be Procter & Gamble to fill a pipeline, create a brand, and ultimately explode into retail. For all the problems that infomercials have today-high media costs, vanishing TV viewers, DVRs-they’re still an incredibly powerful weapon.”

The initial goal for the steam mop infomercial was to generate enough sales to cover the media costs. The next step was going to retail in the U.S. and internationally.

In the infomercial’s test phase last spring, customers who wanted to order online were directed only to Euro-Pro’s main corporate website. From there, Frankel says, it wasn’t possible to add upsells for the mop-extra steam pads, extended warranties and so on. Almost simultaneously with the post-testing rollout, Frankel threw up the single-product site,, and directed viewers there instead.

That’s when online sales took a huge jump and began to account for a third of all orders. Basic and unglamorous though it was, the dedicated microsite not only allowed upsells (largely accounting for the average gross of $127 on an $80 product), it sold more mops.

Soltoff points to this as an important lesson. When consumers go online in response to a television advertisement, he says, “they’re coming to buy.” There should be no obstacles or distractions in their path. He insists that driving shoppers to the main corporate site in pursuit of branding or image-related goals is a mistake. “On a corporate site, there are a number of things to do: Here’s the section for investors, here’s ‘About Us,’ here are our other products. All of that peels away conversions. When you mix apples, oranges and bananas, you depress the sale of apples.”

When shoppers are driven instead to a microsite focused on a single product, the buying path becomes far more simple and intuitive, Soltoff says. Want to sell a steam mop or any other individual item? “Put your blinders on,” he advises. One product, one website.

But beyond the question of where to drive your customers once they’re online, Frankel and Soltoff agree, the larger lesson is that more DRTV viewers are going online to begin with-a lot more.

When web sales were incremental, Soltoff says, the big question for DRTV advertisers was simply: “Did I sell enough on the phone or not?” Ask that question in a vacuum today, and your campaign may wind up in trouble. “You might decide from the phones that an airing isn’t working when it is,” he says. “That’s the world we live in now.”

If a third of an infomercial’s sales can come in online this year, and maybe more next year, then DRTV marketers need to rethink their measurement and tracking systems. Euro-Pro and SendTec not only know how many online sales the steam mop is generating, they can tweak media buys accordingly. Why? Because they track online activity very carefully.

If an infomercial airs at 2 a.m. in Chicago, Soltoff says, he can see the effects in terms of visits directly to the website, and click-throughs from search engines such as Google and Yahoo, and traditional phone calls to an 800 number. “We can tie all of that back to the media spend,” he says. “This activity all happens in time frames that can be coordinated with specific media spots. From that you can tell what media is working, what’s breaking even, and what isn’t.”

That is, you can tell what’s really working, not just what’s happening at the call center. With online sales turning into meat and potatoes instead of merely gravy, that’s nice to know.

Jack Gordon is Electronic Retailer magazine’s editor at large.

No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment