As we head into the week of Thanksgiving, I’m hearing that results across all categories of mailers – apparel, home furnishings, gifts and hard goods – remain soft. Most mailers are reporting that they are a few points below plan, although a few are reporting that they are very soft.
Unfortunately, most retailers are not reporting any better news, and with inventory piling up as we enter the crucial final four weeks of sales, look for heavy discounting from big retailers, which will further hurt catalog sales.
One consultant I spoke with this week used global warming as an explanation for the softness as, up until this past weekend, exceptionally mild to warm weather nationwide was impacting his client’s apparel sales. That’s a new one that we can add to the litany of reasons as to why catalogs sales might be soft. But here is the important thing – are you keeping track of all the factors that you feel are hurting your sales – beyond not having any exciting merchandise – so you can review them and act on them at your post mortem?
None with One Week to Go
Last Wednesday (Nov. 18) I received 9 slim-Jim catalogs, which tells me some printer must have had a special pool just for that trim size. Several of the catalogs were specialty catalogs, that were direct competitors to one another. The following day, (November 19) I received no catalogs at home. This was one week before Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Plaid Saturday and all the other contrived sales occasions at this time of year.
But contrived or not, you know your customer is going to be shopping a lot in the next 10 days. Further, I expect a deluge of catalogs from Monday to Wednesday (Nov. 23 to 25). As I have pointed out before, this is the result of allowing the printers and their co-mail pools to dictate when our catalogs must be in-home, and the potential impact that will have on response. I’d rather be in home a few days before everyone else, and be the only catalog in the mail box, than arrive on the alleged “optimal” day, and be joined by 20+ other books. Watch your own mailbox over the next three days and draw your own conclusions.
The Price is Right, or Is It?
When I was a kid, we had one of these spinning angels – candle decorations on our dining room table. My mother usually only lit it when my father was not around as the sound it makes is pretty annoying after more than 45 seconds.
I bring this up because I would not consider one of these things to be one of those prized Christmas decoration that becomes a family heirloom. They are cute, they fascinate children under age 7, drive cats crazy, and pretty much wear out their novelty and welcome by the second or third time you use them. Miles Kimball sells theirs for $5.99, which in my opinion is a fair and reasonable price. On the other hand, Vermont Country Store has the same product for $24.95.
The reason this caught my attention was that VT Country Store has this featured on the opening spread of their holiday catalog. It struck me as odd that they would put theirs in such a prominent place, given the price differential. Both come with 4 candles, and the Mile Kimball version even comes with a clown and 3 horses you can substitute for the angels.
So what makes the VT Country Store version that much better that they can charge more than 4 times as much? Apparently nothing. There is nothing in the copy indicating that theirs is any better (handmade, tempered steel, etc.). Based on the photos, they look identical. I assume they are, and further, probably have similar costs.
I’m less concerned with VT Country Store gouging their customers than I am with Miles Kimball missing an opportunity to increase their margins on this next year. They could increase their price by a dollar or two, still be waaaay more competitive than VCS, and add that margin right to the bottom line. This is the kind of thing that needs review in every post-mortem once the book is done. You do conduct a post mortem on your catalog and web sales, right?
This Should Not Be Happening
When you work for a service bureau like Datamann, one of things you always dread is having a client point out to you that you mailed a duplicate catalog. It’s even worse when one of your competitors points it out to your client.
Thus, I take no enjoyment (well, maybe a little) in pointing out the examples above from Sharper Image. I received these three catalogs on Saturday Nov. 21. Two of them were addressed identically to me, and the third was addressed to my wife, but her name was misspelled.
OK – accidents happen and Datamann is certainly not to be absolved as we have made a mistake or two in the past too. But some simple checks would have caught these errors. Find out from your service bureau what they do to monitor for duplications like this.
No Greater Love
No greater love hath a man (or woman) to design a catalog that drives response and sales, than one with a mortgage.
A few weeks ago, I received an email from a subscriber who happens to be the creative director for his company, with the notice below introducing a new catalog. With all due respect to Datamann’s UK clients, I can always tell that a US catalog is going to be pretentious when they refer to their catalog as a “catalogue”.
Note there is no mention of product or merchandise in the above introductory email. Instead, we’ll “draw inspiration from the pastoral landscape” of Quebec, with its pale light. The opening spread is below. I’ll bet that drove a lot of sales.
You can request one yourself here: Kaufmann Mercantile
I’m not going to bore you with yet another critique of yet another catalog that is only going to survive 18 months at best. But I wanted to share with you the comments from the reader who let me know about it in the first place. When I shared with him last week that I’d finally received a copy of the catalog, and that I gave it 18 months of survival at best, he replied “Agree; I received one, too. As a creative guy, I always want to make a catalog memorable, interesting. But as a guy with a mortgage, not at the expense of the metrics.” There is a lesson there for all of us.
Think profits, think response, and mail responsibly.
Have a great Thanksgiving.
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by Bill LaPierre
VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics
Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235