Shoppers urged to do it by phone

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The Independent Online
BT IS to launch an autumn campaign to increase the use of the telephone for home shopping. It will send free catalogues to about 8 million residential customers - those it believes to have the highest spending power, writes Mary Fagan.

Seventy-five companies, including Marks & Spencer and First Direct, are each spending thousands of pounds to advertise goods and services in the brochure.

The initiative comes under a BT programme called Call For Action, which attempts to raise revenues in the face of increasing regulation and competition. A spokesman said: 'The network is there and the telephones are there. The more people use it the better the returns to us.'

BT's average customer uses the telephone for about four minutes a day. Home shopping could at least double that at little or no extra cost to the company. Consumer bodies may raise objections because BT will be using its database of information on customers to compile the list.

However, a spokesman for BT said: 'What we are doing is sending material to some of our customers. I cannot see any problem with that.' He added that there was probably no need to inform the watchdog Oftel about the home shopping plan.

This is only one strand of BT's huge marketing effort. The company plans to offer videos and computer games on demand down the telephone wires. In another initiative staff are being encouraged to seek out sales leads at parties, in the pub or on holiday. Employees are being urged to fill the gap of hundreds of millions of pounds in revenues created by a new price control regime.