Monday, 5 October 2009

The September Catalogue Log

In last month’s Catalogue Log, we were wondering why we’d received a scant 71 catalogues in August. No matter: Volume picked up in September, with a vengeance. We tallied 212 catalogues in September, the most in one month so far this year. To put it in context, in May, the month with the second greatest volume, we'd received 155 catalogues. Or, for more context, of the 1,081 catalogues logged during the first nine months of 2009, nearly one-fifth were received in September.

While the number of catalogues received had nearly tripled from the previous month, the percentage promoting sales and discounts dropped appreciably, from 43.7 percent in August to 34.4 percent in September. That’s somewhat higher than July’s 30.9 percent but nearly on a par with June’s 34.1 percent.

The percentage of the September catalogues offering free delivery was 18.4 percent, up from August’s 16.9 percent. It’s also the second highest rate so far this year. Top honours go to April, in which a full 20 percent of the books received had some sort of free P&P offer. Several of the September delivery offers were pegged to deadlines. Fashion brand Joe Browns, for instance, promised free P&P only on orders received by 18th September; fellow apparel brand White Stuff extended its offer till 15th October; yet another fashion brand, Fat Face, offered free delivery but only till 30th September and only on web orders.

The percentage of catalogues offering a gift with purchase was a fairly modest 10.8 percent in September. That’s down from August’s 14.1 percent and the high, in June, of 17.8 percent. Among September’s gifts-with-purchase were a £20 cosmetics kit with orders of £25 or more from; £12.50 worth of chocolates with each order of £50 or more from the Hotel Chocolat Corporate Christmas Gifts catalogue; and from apparel cataloguer Boden, a Jewelled Pebble Necklace worth £39 for new customers.

The Boden offer appeared in the mini-catalogue inserted in an issue of the Sunday Times; the catalogue cover also offered a 15-percent discount, free delivery, and free returns. Far be it for me to question the wisdom of Johnnie Boden et al, but one could argue that the plethora of promotions makes the brand seem a bit… needy. Yes, annual turnover rose 9.4 percent last year, to £168.1 million, so the company is undoubtedly doing many things right. Then again, pretax profit fell 9.5 percent, to £24.8 million, and while some of this was due to expanding its US facilities, could Boden be overspending on some of its customer acquisition?

Enough speculation; let’s get back to cold, hard percentages. Among the September catalogues, 42.5 percent promised no special offers at all. That’s a significant increase from 31.0 percent in August, though down slightly from 43.6 percent in July. As we get closer to Christmas, it might be interesting to wager how low the percentage of promotion-free catalogues will fall before the end of the year. My money’s on 20 percent: I predict that by December, four out of five catalogues will be touting some sort of discount, freebie, or other promotion. Your predictions?--SC

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