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Late Summer Catalog Observations 2015- Part 2

This is another post from our good friend Bill Lapierre. Bill’s keen observations about catalog and omni-channel retailers are carefully followed by industry leaders.

Since this is a short week with Labor Day, I’m going to offer a variety of quick catalog observations.
In conferring with Mike Hayden at 4Cite Marketing last week, many mailers (his clients, our clients, and mailers in general) are reporting that response in August was soft. This is just as most of you are starting to ramp up Holiday circulation. So far, I have not heard of anyone pulling the plug on any Holiday circulation, based on either August trends or what the stock market is doing, but I would be cautious.
Where Are They?
Something is going on. Where are the catalogs? As I’ve mentioned many times before, my wife and I are very active catalog/mail order shoppers, as well as online shoppers. Our two names are out there in the “catalog name ecosystem” everywhere. But we are not getting any new catalogs. We are getting ones from companies we have bought from, or from their sister titles. I am getting catalogs from lists where I am seeded on as a decoy (again, mostly Datamann and 4Cite clients), or where another mailer has rented one of Datamann’s client’s list (different decoy name). So I know mailers are still doing prospect mailings. But, there are no incrementally new catalogs – with which we have not already had some contact – being sent to us as general consumers. This applies to both new launches as well as existing catalogs from which we have never purchased. If the number of households and transactions flowing into the catalog co-op databases is supposedly at an all-time high, and the co-ops are also supposedly signing up pure-play retailers and new clients that are contributing data to the co-ops, wouldn’t it follow logic that I’d be getting more catalogs, and even prospecting emails? But nothing. Please let me know if you are experiencing a similar drought of catalogs.
The Pile, and Then Nothing: I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but I’ve mentioned here before the danger to response rates presented by catalog co-mail pools. During the month of August, I had several days (usually Friday or Saturday) where I received 10 or 15 catalogs – although not new ones. Then, we would go for a stretch of anywhere from 8 to 12 days with only one or two catalogs received, then get another 15 on a single day. The Bas Bleu catalog benefited from this scenario, as my wife and I had breakfast one morning last week, and it was the only catalog received in the past week, and was sitting on the kitchen counter. My wife flipped through it and circled some gifts she wanted for Christmas. Would this have happened if it at arrived with ten other books? Probably not.
A Nearly Perfect Catalog:
Many of my catalog clients ask me “Who is doing a good job?”, or “What catalog do you think is doing it right?”. In my opinion, the Halloween Guide from Pottery Barn Kids is a great catalog – at least from a creative perspective. They are not a Datamann client so I know nothing about their circulation planning, their profitability, etc. I’m responding as a consumer and parent.

Granted, just like kitten videos on Facebook, this catalog has a certain “cuteness” to it that a B2B catalog of chainsaw parts probably lacks. The kids all look happy and the photography is great. But that is what you need to inspire you to purchase a $89 Butterfly Fairy costume, which will probably be worn once, instead of heading to Wal-Mart to get a $15 Frozen Elsa costume. This book from PBK perfects the art of being aspirational in a way many catalogs no longer know how to do or take the time to do.

PBK believes enough in this book, and the merchandise, to not resort to cover messages offering 30% off, although a few of the products scattered through the book have free shipping.
However, I do have two “issues” with it. First, I received it August 12th, which is probably just the right time for a Halloween offer. But twice in the catalog, there was a message stating “prices in the catalog are valid for catalog-only orders through August 18, 2015.” Why mail a catalog with prices valid for only a week? What is the possible reason behind that which would seem reasonable to a consumer? The second issue is why send this catalog to our house? I bought my son a Star Wars towel from the PBK catalog about 5 years ago. He’s 15 now, and has not participated in Halloween activities for about 5 years. I would be very surprised if Williams-Sonoma/PB does not have demographics applied to our household in their database to tell them the age of each resident of the household, and if they don’t, they should.
Leon Gorman:
Our local TV station here in New Hampshire announced the death of Leon Gorman, (former President and CEO of LL Bean, and grandson of the original LL Bean) last week as one of its lead news stories. That gives you an idea of the impact of this man on American culture. I never met Leon Gorman, but everything I heard about him was that he was a great direct marketer, and a true gentleman. We all owe him a great debt for the numerous innovations and contributions he made to the catalog industry. I wish there were more like him today.

by Bill LaPierre
VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics
Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

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