Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Introducing the Catalogue Log

What percentage of catalogues would you say promoted some sort of sale or discount on their covers? If you guessed slightly more than one-third, you’re correct. Of the 520 consumer and business catalogues logged by Catalogue e-business during the first five months of the year, 191 of them—36.7 percent—touted price cuts loud and clear. A subset of these limited their discounts to first-time customers (for instance, promotional products merchant 4imprint).

Not surprisingly, sales and discounts were the most popular promotions offered by mailers—but not the only ones. Fifty-eight of the catalogues, or 11.2 percent, promised some sort of free delivery. Sometimes this was a blanket offer, though just as frequently it was tied to a spending threshold or restricted to online orders (or in the case of crafts merchant Baker Ross’s summer catalogue, both).

Nearly as popular among the catalogues tracked was a free gift with purchase; 57 catalogues, or 11 percent, offered this. Comparatively few (2.1 percent) had a prize draw of some sort, and even fewer (1.3 percent) tried a buy-one-get-one-free promotion.

And some cataloguers figured that if one promotion was good, two (or more) would be even better. Cotton Traders, for instance, frequently promoted a price cut on a particular product (such as £19.99 sweats for just £9.99 in its summer catalogue) as well as a prize draw for £25,000. Another apparel catalogue, Kaleidoscope, promoted on its April cover discounts of up to 20 percent, plus a free cutlery set for those placing their first order. A premier customer edition of office supplies cataloguer Neat Ideas promised savings of up to 60 percent plus buy-one-get-one-free on certain items plus free gifts with purchase. And computer company Dell consistently promised discounts and free P&P.

Contrary to our expectations, January was not the month with the most price promotions. (See chart above; click on image to enlarge.) Although 35.4 percent of the catalogues logged in January advertised price cuts and discounts, in May that rose to 42.6 percent. Perhaps merchants had cut back their inventories prior to Christmas and therefore had less to liquidate, though that wouldn’t explain the increase in price reductions in May. Meanwhile, the percentage of catalogues offering free P&P peaked in April, at a full 20 percent, compared with just 7.3 percent in February and 9 percent in March.

As you can imagine, there are a number of ways to slice and dice the copious data we've collected. That's why we'll be analysing on a monthly basis, beginning with the June catalogues, the offers that make their way through our mail slot. We're calling it the Catalogue e-business Catalogue Log, for lack of anything catchier. But I suspect that the trends the data will reveal will be catchy enough.--SC

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