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?
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.
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