December Catalog Observations

by Bill LaPierre on December 14, 2014


We are two weeks past Black Friday/Cyber Monday, and I’m hearing that many of you have had a strong two weeks, with sales coming in better than expected. My good friend Mike Hayden at 4Cite Marketing confirmed that many of their clients as well had an exceptionally strong week of sales last week. However, it probably has not been enough to make up for the slow start to the season. It looks like many of you will end the season either just at or below plan, but not by much.

Moreover, many of you reported bottlenecks in getting orders out the door of the DC because demand was stronger in the past week than expected. Now, that’s OK because you don’t build a warehouse to meet the demand on one peak week, although you would staff for it. But each of the mailers that told me of these bottlenecks had been very promotional with emails over Thanksgiving and during the past two weeks. Again, are you measuring at what cost you are acquiring sales if you discount sales 30%, give free shipping and add a 3rd shift in the DC?


I had predicted that the Monday before Thanksgiving would be the peak day for catalogs I received at home this season – but I was off by one week. The Monday after Thanksgiving (December 1) was the peak day (26 unique catalogs, which is down from an all-time high of 52 catalogs back in 2009). Moreover, I received 11 unique catalogs on Tuesday December 9, with four of them mailed to prospect names. That said, we as an industry just keep reinforcing to the consumer that they can order later into the season.  You’re all counting on the other guy not to be promoting as late as you, so that UPS, FedEx, and the Postal Service can handle the last minute crush.

You already know about how the consumer was buried with promotional emails, because you received them yourself. I received over 300 promotional emails during the 5-day Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday period, with Brookstone taking the honors for sending SIX on Monday alone. I know when you are planning your email promotions, each of you anticipates that you’ll be sending out all your emails into a hailstorm of emails from every other retailer, and so your offer has to be better than the other guy’s. But, when you are evaluating the overall effectiveness of emails in general (not just the one campaign that went out at 2 PM on Thanksgiving) do you take into consideration that you are just one of thousands sending out the same message?


I’m Pissed

Dinner conversation in our home invariably touches on catalogs. On Cyber Monday, I commented about Lands’ End having a special that day of 40% off everything and free shipping with no minimum purchase. My wife responded with “I’m pissed at Lands’ End! I just got their latest catalog today, and everything I wanted to order at was out-of-stock! Why even bother to mail a catalog? All that is left in my size is one ugly color that I bet will be in the clearance section after the holidays.”

Well, that sent me to the garage looking for all the Lands’ End catalogs that we had recently received. Since September 1, Lands’ End has sent us 12 catalogs, with a total of 1,348 pages. That’s a huge marketing commitment, multiplied out over millions of US households. But, they failed to execute the most basic merchandise function of being in-stock (at least for my wife). All the omnichannel marketing in the world won’t help if you don’t have the goods.

No Prospecting Emails:

I get a ton of emails, but I can account for why I received everyone (either I’m a customer, or had signed up for emails from the company). I received only one truly “prospecting” email since the end of summer, from a chain of stores in Wisconsin that has a mail order tractor parts business. I don’t know how, but they found me and targeted me well. Why aren’t the consumer catalogs doing the same?

Myth of Uniqueness:

Many of you remember when I did my “What Were They Thinking Speeches” for the DMA, I would track the one item that appeared in the most catalogs each year. In 2003, it was everything angels. In 2005, it was “lighticicles”, the Christmas lights that hang off the front of your house to look like lighted icicles.

This year, it was multi colored socks, similar to those below from Plow Hearth and Sundance. They were not exactly all alike. I found them in 13 catalogs – which may not seem like much. But here’s the problem – I’ll bet that most of these companies thought they had really unique products, because they were the only one carrying a particular vendors’ socks. The consumer doesn’t see it that way – the consumer sees the same products in 13+ catalogs and concludes that nothing is unique. Sure there are slight differences. But the average consumer simply sees and mentally records a blur of funny colored socks. They conclude that everyone is just carrying the same socks and the only thing that sets them apart is price. Be careful when you jump on a merchandise fad.

Sundnace-2014-Socks P&H-Socks-2014


Times are Tough

The image below was a full page ad in my local newspaper’s Thanksgiving edition touting the virtues of newspaper advertising. It was sponsored by the Newspaper Association of America. I love the tag line at the bottom about “engage with newspaper advertising”.   Now, ask yourself this – why would a trade association use a full page ad,  on what is by far each newspaper’s highest page volume edition of the year, to self-promote the virtues of newspapers? Who were they trying to convince?  This is like the USPS and printers wanting to put full page ads in your catalog touting how effective catalogs are. When you have to convince your core audience (and I love to read the paper every night) how effective your medium is, you’re already destined for oblivion.


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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235


I want to invite all the readers of this blog to a special event. Datamann is again sponsoring an all-day seminar for the Vermont / New Hampshire Marketing Group called Who Is Looking Out For Your Interests? on Thursday, February 19, 2015 at the Marriott Courtyard / Grappone Conference Center in Concord, NH.

This year, I was fortunate to get two of the brightest and most talented thinkers / writers / speakers in the industry to join me for this event – Amy Africa from Eight by Eight and Kevin Hillstrom from Mine That Data.  They are rock stars in the industry, known for looking into the future of where this industry is going, and the impact the future will have on your business.

I chose the theme for the day – Who Is Looking Out for Your Interests? – as an extension of a posting Kevin recently wrote in his blog on “who are we going to trust with our future?” I asked both Amy and Kevin to focus on where the average catalog and ecommerce company is headed, and what the future holds. You will get a realistic view of how we got to where we are, and what you’ll need to do to push, pull and carry your company along to survive in the future. We will end the day with an open forum, allowing attendees to share their concerns, beliefs and questions on catalog growth and catalog strategies.

VT NH Seminar 2015 Cover

Datamann clients and members of the VT/NH Marketing Group will be getting additional registration information in the mail in the next few days.  Or to register now or for more information, go to

I realize that coming to New Hampshire is a long trip for many of you, especially in the middle of a New England winter. But, at last year’s seminar on marketing analytics, we had over 140 attendees.  I promise this will be an information packed event – along with being a chance to meet with other catalog and ecommerce marketers – which will be well worth the trip. The VT/NH Marketing Group has been providing conferences and seminars for catalog and e-commerce companies for 25 years. Datamann is grateful for this opportunity to continue our sponsorship of this event.  For those of you unfamiliar with the state, Concord is New Hampshire’s state capital, and is only 20 minutes north of the Manchester, NH airport, which is served by all major airlines, and about 90 minutes north of Boston. We look forward to seeing you in February.

Agenda – Thursday, February 19, 2015

Marriott Courtyard Grappone Conference Center, Concord, NH

8:30 AM to 9:00 AM – Registration and Networking

9:00 AM to 10:00 AM

Pay Attention if You Want to Survive – Bill LaPierre, Datamann

  • Focus on the three things that will grow your business
  • Survival is not that hard, it only requires common sense thinking
  • Determining which marketing efforts truly add incremental sales

10:00 AM to 10:15AM – Networking Break

10:15AM to 12:15 PM

Choices That Make a Difference – Kevin Hillstrom, MineThatData

  • Why retailers must rethink the future of omnichannel in-store shopping
  • Envisioning the impact of an e-commerce future on a five inch screen
  • Pitfalls of following the multichannel blueprint for catalogs into the future

12:15 PM to 1:00 PM – Lunch and Networking

1:00 PM to 3:00 PM

Forget What Else You’ve Heard – This is Really the Future of Ecommerce – Amy Africa, Eight by Eight

  • Choosing between new things (and things you should be doing but aren’t) to guarantee you a spot at the top
  • Strategies to employ now, to “futurize” your existing programs/site
  • Creating mobile sites that drive response

3:00 PM to 3:30 PM – Networking break

3:30 PM to 4:30 PM

Open discussion: Amy Africa, Kevin Hillstrom and Bill LaPierre

  • Your chance to ask questions and get advice from the experts
  • Share your beliefs and theories with each other, and help identify who we are going to trust with our “future”.

To register now or for more information, go to

The Marriott Courtyard/ Grappone Conference Center, Concord, NH is located at 70 Constitution Ave in Concord, NH – just north of the intersection of I-89 and I-93. Special room rates of $99 are available for attendees of the seminar if they register with the Marriott by January 28, 2015. You must mention your attendance at the seminar to receive the special rates.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

What is to Become of Single Title Catalogs? – Part 2

December 7, 2014

One of the interesting things about this blog is seeing which postings generate the highest readership, and which generate the most comments from readers. My first installment of this series on what is to become of single title catalogs (click here for Part 1) generated both. One reader chided me for not mentioning the obvious […]

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There’s No Hard Sell

November 30, 2014

Since many of you are dealing with the avalanche of orders that came in over the weekend and those that are expected on “Cyber Monday”, I’m going to keep this short. I received an email the other day from someone who had found one of my old postings about Brookstone where I had written about […]

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Holiday Catalog Observations 2014 – Part 3

November 23, 2014

Sales: The cold weather appears to have done the trick, and gotten consumers back into the buying frame of mind. From what I am hearing from clients and mailers, orders and sales began to pick up starting around November 10.  No one is reporting that sales are doing great, but they are back to close […]

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What is to Become of Single Title Catalogs? – Part 1

November 16, 2014

With the news that catalog conglomerate Potpourri recently purchased the travel product catalog Magellan’s, bringing Potpourri’s total number of titles to 15, I started thinking about the future of other single title catalog companies. There’s nothing wrong with being bought by a conglomerate like Potpourri. They are an extremely well-oiled and efficient catalog machine. If […]

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Holiday Catalog Observations 2014 – Part 2

November 9, 2014

Sales: Well, my dire prediction a month ago that ISIS or Ebola would cause the bottom to fall out of sales this holiday season has not happened. Plus, with the price of gas dropping below $3 in most places, you would normally expect strong sales. But I’m still hearing that most of you are experiencing […]

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This is How You Change Your Business

November 2, 2014

I know it gets annoying to hear consultants like me tell you to change your company to grow, without any specific advice on how to do it. I wish it was as simple as in the movie Young Frankenstein, where Gene Wilder picks up his grandfather’s book on how he created Frankstein labeled HOW I […]

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Staying True to Product

October 26, 2014

Several weeks ago, I wrote that many of the older catalogs headquartered in New England that were still in existence, have survived as long as they have because they have stayed true to their merchandise direction, while always keeping an eye on making sure they were staying “current” without trying to be “contemporary”. A reader […]

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The WOW Factor

October 19, 2014

When I critique a client’s catalog design, I don’t discuss with them color palettes, branding or eye flow. I talk about what drives response. We can all be subjective about what we do and don’t like creatively in a catalog, but it is tough to argue about what drives response. If the cataloger is eager […]

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