Tell Them You Hate It and Move On

by Bill LaPierre on August 17, 2014

As you are coming down the home stretch preparing your final Holiday catalogs, and approving those final designs, keep this story in mind.

There’s a controversy growing in Washington DC that you may have missed. Here’s the short story – in 1999, Congress created the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, to locate, design and fund the creation of a lasting memorial in Washington DC to Dwight D. Eisenhower. After 15 years, and spending over $41 million, the Commission is coming under heavy criticism because they have chosen a design for the memorial that no one likes. The final design depicts Eisenhower as a young boy from Kansas, and features gigantic, eight-story metal screens of Kansas corn fields.


This is supposed to be our nation’s tribute to WWII’s Supreme Allied Commander, and our 34th President. The Eisenhower family doesn’t like it, Congress doesn’t like it, and most people that have seen the design (click here) don’t like it. About the only group that has endorsed it is the City Council of Eisenhower’s boyhood home town of Abilene, KS. But the Commission is sticking by their design. How did we get here?

We got here because no one was willing to say anywhere along the line “I hate this”. To me, the design is not only ugly, stupid, and disrespectful to the memory of Eisenhower, it symbolizes a problem that I see in many catalogs.  No one is ever willing to say “this stinks, it’s going in the wrong direction, stop now and let’s see something else”. Instead, people offer constructive criticism, hoping that the designer will intuitively know, maybe through osmosis or mind reading, what the other person really wants. The designer doesn’t realize that they are being told that their design “doesn’t work” because no one tells them such in so many words. The sugar-coated comments offered simply avoid hurting anyone’s feelings. And then you are stuck.

So, a bad catalog design simply gets reworked a little, and usually becomes even worse. Products that should not even be in the book get prominence on a page. Propping that is completely inappropriate to the products and overall design get emphasized. Product density is either too high or too low.

Remember, it’s hard to miss the message in “I hate it.” Yes, it will stop conversation. It may even ruffle some feathers. But you have merchanside to sell. Don’t allow Creative to hijack your products, or your catalog. Don’t allow a bad catalog design to move forward.  In our overly-sensitive, politically correct world, we could avoid a lot of problems, and increase a lot of sales, by simply being direct and blunt with our comments, without being personal, and moving on.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235


Holiday Jitters – Time to Reassess?

by Bill LaPierre on August 10, 2014

It doesn’t take much of a change to the stock market to get clients calling and asking what this means for Holiday response. And that is exactly what has happened over the past 10 days. The Dow Average has dropped 4% since July 16 (when it hit an all-time record high), and now catalogers are starting to question their holiday assumptions.


I’m not a market analyst, so I’m not going to try to predict what the stock market will do between now and December and what that means for your customer’s response rates. But there are some red lights flashing at the moment that should be part of your holiday planning.

  • Shoppers are fleeing physical stores. According to a report last week in the Wall Street Journal, retail store visitors are down from 2% to 7% this summer. Why? The article states that “instead of wandering through stores and making impulse purchases, shoppers use their mobile phones and computers to research prices and cherry pick promotions, sticking to shopping lists rather than splurging on unneeded items”.  I don’t read that as an endorsement of “omnichannel success” or even a mobile commerce success, instead I read that as the consumer is still cautious, and is looking for bargains. So, prepare for another heavily promotional shopping season.


  • Your Packages: As the operation guys in your distribution center well know, FedEx and UPS are moving more packages to the USPS. The Post Office’s Parcel Select service has seen a 500% surge in volume since 2009, from 223 million packages, to 1.3 billion in 2013. This extra revenue is helping keep the USPS afloat – but there is a problem. The USPS is not that automated, certainly not to the degree that UPS and FedEx are. Remember all the packages that didn’t get delivered last year during the spike in orders just before Christmas? Well, now the responsibility for helping out with that bottle neck has been handed off to the Postal Service. Maybe they can handle it, but as they close more facilities, have we simply passed the buck to an organization that is already challenged? So, prepare for a potential fulfillment problem.


  •  Along those same lines, Amazon announced this week that they are expanding their same day delivery, to six more cities this Fall. It’s tough to compete with that.


  •  And while you are evaluating your holiday plans, what percent of sales did you plan to lose to Amazon, Zulilly, eBay and all the other ecommerce companies that are gunning for your customers, but whose customers you do not have access to with your catalog because they are not part of the co-ops? If you are planning anything less than 5% erosion, you should revisit your plans.


  • The Biggest Danger This Holiday Season: I’ve been reviewing some clients’ merchandise plans for Holiday 2014, and noticed some strange product placements – products getting far more space and attention than would seem fitting based on past results for similar products.  When I query them, the merchants always have a great explanation as to why their plans are what they are.
  • But they will never admit to the truth – which is invariably that the rep for that product has pushed its prominence, offered major incentives to purchase and place the product, and even offered substantial co-op ad dollars (basically paying for the space in the catalog) to include and even feature their product.  This is one of the biggest dangers that can happen.
  •  Merchants are not doing anything nefarious, or even unethical. But they fall victim to the siren call of the rep for a specific line of products, forgetting or even being naively unaware that the rep is not necessarily presenting the products that will sell the best for you the mailer, but instead are presenting those that are best for the rep.

Most often, the rep is being spiffed by the manufacturer, and the better the spiff, the more the rep will push that product. Unless your buyers have the experience to see beyond these types of tactics, you could be banking a boat load of hope for major sales increases this holiday, on what is actually mediocre product.

I see a number of red flags at the moment that tell me this is not going to be a strong holiday season.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235


What Are You Selling? A Question for Merchandise Analytics

August 3, 2014

I critiqued one of my client’s catalogs this week, which had a spread that screamed “cooking with kids” and showed all kinds of cooking utensils being used by a mother and her kids. But here’s the kicker – it was an apparel spread. The cloths were for sale, but not the utensils. That got me […]

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There Are No Bad Products, Only Bad Prices

July 27, 2014

A few weeks ago, I took Terry’s Village to task (click here) for doing a sale catalog which had full copy blocks for individual items that had been marked down from $7 to $4. Worse, there were full copy blocks for every item in the catalog. That is the old-school approach to a sale catalog, […]

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We Are Focusing Too Much Time and Energy on Page One

July 20, 2014

Where have you heard this before: “We are not moving with enough urgency!”? I’m not going to bore you with the details of how many newspapers I read – suffice it to say, I subscribe to and read several papers daily, including the Wall Street Journal. As such, I was delighted several years ago when […]

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Summer Catalog Observations 2014 – Part 2

July 13, 2014

Cupcakes and Yoga Pants Every 4th of July, my wife and I climb a small mountain near our home, which we had to delay a day this year because of Hurricane Arthur’s rain in New Hampshire. Although this mountain is in a fairly rural part of the state, it is a popular climb. While we […]

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Robust Techno Babble

July 6, 2014

Since many of you are on vacation this week, or at least just enjoyed a nice three day weekend, I’m going to keep this short and sweet today. My 14 year old son is a big fan of Dilbert, and Scott Adam’s (Dilbert’s creator) dry, acerbic wit. (My son and I get along great!) Whenever […]

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Motorcycles, Averages, Assumptions and Catalogs

June 29, 2014

There are three huge motorcycle events in the US each year – Daytona, Sturgis (SD) and Laconia, NH. I’m not a motorcycle owner or rider – but it is hard to ignore the influx of riders into my home state of New Hampshire during Motorcycle Week, which just concluded last week. The local media reported […]

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Summer Observations 2014 – Part 1

June 22, 2014

Let’s see what the mail man has brought lately, and see how good a job you are doing at motivating customers to buy. Improvements Summer Mailing Oh, I do so love a cover test that proves nothing!  I received these two covers this past week from Improvements. They each feature the same 30% offer on […]

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Don’t Let The Source Gods Weigh You Down

June 15, 2014

I’ve written lately about the need to get marketers and merchants to think more on-line.  That also extends to inventory planners. I will confess that my exposure to inventory planners is limited, but during my frequent client visits, one of the constant laments I hear is that sales could have been better, if the company […]

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