We Are Focusing Too Much Time and Energy on Page One

by Bill LaPierre on 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 I came across the blog called Reflections of A Newsosaur, which describes itself as a place for “musings (and occasional urgent warnings) of a veteran media executive, who fears our news-gathering companies are stumbling to extinction”.

What fascinates me about this website’s “observations” are the parallels to the catalog industry. The catalog printers, the omnichannel data providers, and even our own catalog trade publications are always looking for any scrap of evidence to suggest the sky is not falling and that catalogs are still strong. It is sobering to get a dose of reality from another industry – newspapers – that are suffering in the same manner the catalog industry is. When you look at another industry, you realize the sky is falling.

Take a minute and read this recent posting on why Newspapers Can’t Dabble at Digital. It echoes many of the themes that I have been advocating (and others like Kevin Hillstrom) that catalogs are not moving quickly enough to embrace the digital consumer.

The posting recaps an internal 96-page report that was leaked from the New York Times, detailing how that venerable industry leader has failed to grow digitally, and how it has been “out-thought, out-promoted and otherwise out-gunned by the growing phalanx of digital publishers. Meanwhile, our journalism advantage is shrinking as more of these digital upstarts expand their newsrooms”.  Sound familiar? Do you hear Amazon, eBay, Zulilly and now Alibaba knocking at your warehouse door?

Many of you are knee deep in planning your holiday catalogs. I’ve sat in on several catalog planning sessions lately, where the talk revolved around photo shoots for the catalog, pagination of the catalog, cover strategies, and obviously, circulation plans. But, as the New Your Times report stated, “We are not moving with enough urgency….we are focusing too much time and energy on Page One”. I rarely hear anyone address the digital side of Holiday plans, and when I do, it is almost always an afterthought.

Catalogs are just like the New York Times – there is no sense of urgency to think digital. One example from the report that struck a chord with me is the NYT “aims ambitious stories for Sunday because it is our largest print readership, but weekends are the slowest online”. That’s no different than catalogs waiting to introduce new products in their catalog, rather than getting them online as soon as they are available, because they want the catalog to generate excitement. Good Lord!

When we read reports like the one on the NYT, we shake our head and say “Yeah, I can see how newspapers are getting passed by”. We failed to recognize ourselves in this similar saga, or if we do, we excuse our catalog because we believe it is still “unique”, and think that this only applies to the other guy’s catalog.

The way to fix this is not to simply say, “well, we’ve got a website, we’ve got an email program, and we’ve got a mobile site, and we’re on Facebook, so we have all the bases covered, and that makes us a digital company”, (or worse, “that makes us an omnichannel company”). Having a mobile site does not make you an mobile marketer – it makes you a catalog from which I can order with my phone.

As you roll into your holiday plan, here are some ways to tell if you are thinking like an online company as opposed to being simply another catalog with ecommerce aspirations:

  •  Do you have at least twice the number of products available on-line for purchase than you do in your catalog?
  •  Do you ever keep any of your absolute best products out of the catalog, and make them web-only?
  •  Are more than 50% of your incrementally new customers being acquired with no help from a catalog?
  •  Have you done a hold out test to determine the percentage of on-line demand that comes from existing customer if you stopped mailing them a catalog?
  •  Do you spend the same amount of time and attention on updating your website as you do on paginating and creating your catalog? (I already know the answer on this one is “No”.)
  •  Are you creating separate web-driver catalogs targeted at specific portions of your file?

When you answer yes to all these questions, you are on track to avoiding the collapse that is so easy to see coming in the newspaper industry, and can easily be coming to catalogs as well.

As a final note, the posting on Newsosaur about the NYT report was on July 10. In his posting on July 16, Alan Mutter (the author) detailed some general statistics about the newspaper industry’s decline (worth a read here at The Newspaper Crisis by Numbers). He concludes that piece with this comment: “A newspaper executive told me a few days ago that some people in the industry hate my continuing coverage of the challenges facing newspapers. For the record, I don’t enjoy writing this stuff anymore than newspaper people like reading it. But I do it because I am trying to remind them of the urgent and formidable challenges they face in not just protecting their individual businesses but also in preserving the irreplaceable public trust that newspapers represent.”

I love catalogs, and certainly Datamann’s client base benefits from having a strong catalog industry, as does Datamann itself. But Mr. Mutter’s closing comment about the newspaper industry is a perfect encapsulation of why it is important we acknowledge and discuss what is happening in the catalog industry.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235



Summer Catalog Observations 2014 – Part 2

by Bill LaPierre on 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 were climbing, I noticed that almost every woman we passed was wearing yoga pants, including one group of four 20-somethings that passed us like we were standing still. I commented on this phenomenon to my wife, who replied “isn’t that good for your clients selling yoga pants?” My response was that it is like finding out that your mother and father are on Facebook – when that happens, the trend is passé.

To put it into a different context, most of you may have seen that the Crumbs Bake Shop chain announced this past week that it was immediately closing all its 48 stores, and going out of business. As the Wall Street Journal reported “Crumbs went public three years ago at the height of the gourmet-cupcake boom. Since then, its financial outlook has grown bleak amid several years of losses, and the cupcake food craze that petered out.”

The gourmet cupcake craze never quite reached northern New England, but the yoga craze has. Our tiny town’s tiny community center even offers yoga classes. Is that indicative of a “health craze” that will soon peter out? I can’t say. But when you see yoga pants becoming the “uniform of choice” to wear to the grocery store, the saturation point for that line of apparel is approaching.

Competing with Amazon on Free Shipping:

The Signals catalog has been offering a “loyalty program” for a while called Signals Circle. They basically “sell you” free shipping for a year, for $30, and give you 10% off some particular products. I noticed that they gave it prominent attention on the cover of the catalog I received this week. But when I compared the actual offer (see below) to the offer they were running in last November’s catalog, I noticed that they had eliminated some of the other perks of the program, and raised the price from $21 to $30!



I’m willing to pay an annual upfront fee for free shipping from Amazon, because the product offering is basically limitless. But doing the same (granted, with a much lower dollar commitment) with a gift catalog selling whimsical t-shirts – not me.  Hopefully the program works for them, but a 42% increase in price with fewer benefits will be hard to sustain.

How Do You Measure This?

I chastised Improvements a few weeks ago for running a cover test that would prove nothing. Now it’s Cuddledown’s turn, with the two covers below that I received on the same day last week.


Cuddledown did something a little different though. They featured a specific product on both covers. The problem is that the product (yellow bedding) on the left is buried on page 66. The product on the right (blue bedding) is right inside on page 3, in both cover versions. Of course the cover with product on the inside opening spread is going to do well. So, how are they going to measure the difference between these two efforts? And even if they aren’t, what’s the point of two covers?

Let Them Know Your Prices are Good

Many of you know that I lost 70% of my hearing a few years ago, so I’m always looking for things to help me hear well. I spotted this extra big and extra loud timer in King Arthur Flour’s catalog that came last week.


Two things really struck me about KAF’s presentation. First, I bought one of these timers a year ago from Amazon, so I immediately looked it up on Amazon to see how much cheaper it was. But lo, it was actually cheaper (only by 5 cents, but still cheaper) in KAF’s catalog. So when are catalogs going to start calling out that they are cheaper than on-line alternatives like Amazon? Maybe they are afraid of having Amazon drop their price by 25 cents and making them look foolish. But so what – you can always claim you were lower at press time, and you can always honor the lower price if you want. We have to start getting aggressive with how we market against the online giants.

The second thing that struck me was KAF’s copy about this timer. The timer is REALLY LOUD, but they only draw attention to that in the headline and not in the main body copy. Look at the first line of copy “The timer you’ve always wanted”. That is a throw-away line that does nothing for sales. What would have been better is “This timer is WICKED LOUD”. Come on folks – this is basic catalog strategy and selling that you should have mastered by now.

It’s a Sale Catalog, Not A Literary Masterpiece

I know this next comment is probably going to elicit an email from Omaha Monday morning, but the award for the first holiday catalog of 2014 (that I received) goes to Terry’s Village (see below), which I received July 5. I did not do a physical count, but it is at least 75% sale merchandise.


There’s nothing wrong with a Holiday catalog in July, especially if it is sale oriented, and heavily discounted at that. But here is what I take issue with. Look at this listing below for these four sweater bottle bags.


Each one got its own block of copy. I’d have a hard time justifying giving all four just one full copy block since the most expensive one is only $7.00.  Because they are discounted the most, I’d say the red and blue ones are obviously problem products – either no one wanted them the first time around, or they are sitting on a pile of them in the warehouse. So why give a $7 product that you marked down to $3.98 a full copy block?? THIS IS WHY WE ARE LOSING to the online companies – we keeping thinking in catalog terms. These should have been relegated to an outlet section of the website. If you are going to use print to clear these products out, do it more efficiently. In total, the catalog was 72 pages. If they had kept all the photos, and simply line listed the price and SKU number, they could have done a 48 page catalog, and probably sold just as much.

More summer observations to follow in coming weeks.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 802-295-6600 x235




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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Additional Comments on Printers

June 10, 2014

Earlier this week, I offered my observations on various aspects of the catalog vendor community. The blog posting I did on Monday titled You Won’t Find This On Any Printers Website offered my musing on what printers could be doing to extend the life of the catalog industry as a whole. Within that posting is […]

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You Won’t Find This On Any Printer’s Website

June 8, 2014

I started out the year with a critical review of the co-ops. No let’s talk about the printers. I critiqued a local B2B catalog company’s catalog last week, and showed them how they could easily reduce the number of pages by 25%, simply by making some basic creative changes, which I knew would have no […]

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But I Was A Good Customer

June 1, 2014

How often do you notice when a catalog is missing – when they just stop mailing to you, especially, if you’ve been a good customer? Every spring, I always ordered some new t-shirts and sweatshirts from the Hanes.Com catalog. Yes, I could go to Wal-Mart and buy them, but the Hanes catalog had a ton […]

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I Hate Your Catalog. I’ve Always Hated Your Catalog.

May 26, 2014

There are things that once said, we wish we could take back, but of course, never can. There are things we say that often dramatically change everything. (Because this is a holiday week, I’m going to tell you a quick story about something that happened last week, involving something I said years ago, which had […]

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