Tuesday, 10 November 2009

The October Catalogue Log

St Nick lugging a bag brimming with toys has become a near-universal symbol of Christmas. For the weeks leading up to the holiday, you could substitute a postie for Santa, and a mailbag bulging with catalogues for the sack of toys.

In October alone, Catalogue e-business logged in 184 catalogues. That’s second in volume only to September, when we tallied 212 catalogues. And one could argue that we would have received even more catalogues last month were it not for the intermittent CWU/Royal Mail strikes.

Not only was our mailbox full of catalogues, but the catalogues were full of promotions. The number of catalogues that featured sales or discounts on their covers was the same that offered no special promotions at all: 76, or 41.3 percent. Only August and May had a higher percentage of sales promotions, at 43.7 percent and 42.6 percent respectively. The percentage of catalogues offering free delivery reached a year high of 21.7 percent. The percentage of catalogues offering a gift with purchase, meanwhile, was 16.8 percent, behind only June (17.8 percent) and August (16.9 percent).

Several of the cataloguers committed the marketing equivalent of hiding their light under a bushel: not promoting significant offers on the cover. Fashion mailer Carr & Westley, for instance, tells readers, “No extra charge for post and packing within the UK”—not on the front or back cover but on the inside front cover. Tools cataloguer/retailer Screwfix offers free delivery on orders of more than £50, though again you’d have to open the catalogue and scan the inside front cover to learn that fact. I don’t understand why you’d offer a buying inducement like free P&P without promoting it. Are the companies secretly hoping no-one will take them up on the offer? The only logical explanation I can come up with is that they’re testing the effectiveness of free P&P, though I didn’t notice any mechanisms in place to help in tracking such a test. If anyone can illuminate me, please do.

Among a few notable catalogues we received: Food gifts mailer Virginia Hayward offered 12.5 percent off its Christmas hampers. I assume that percentage of discount was selected to tie in with the fact that Virginia Hayward is celebrating its 25th anniversary, though maybe the company settled on that number simply because it’s more attention-getting than, say, 10 percent off. Viking Direct sent the most distinct editions of any cataloguer in October: eight, including the 484-page Office Buyers Directory, a 72-page November Sale edition, and a 56-page Pricebuster Sale edition.

Several of the October catalogues made a point of alerting shoppers of their cut-off ordering dates for Christmas delivery, something we’ll no doubt see more of among November’s crop of mailpieces. Silk-flowers cataloguer Bloom will take orders until 18th December for standard Christmas delivery and 21st December for expedited delivery. Toys cataloguer/retailer Early Learning Centre lists 20th December as its deadline. The last order date for Christmas delivery at Rainbow Flowers & Gifts is 18th December. So far CJ Wildlife offers the latest deadline: 21st December for standard delivery to mainland UK.

The Executive Christmas Cards and Promotional Calendars catalogue that raises funds for the RNLI has the dubious distinction of the most incomprehensible promotion, involving a sister company of Kingsmead Publications, which handles the catalogue operations for the RNLI. I think it’s simply a 50 percent discount on stationery from Simply Letterheads, good from 13th December through March, but it’s wrapped in some “clever” verbiage about how taking advantage of the discount enables you to in effect spend nothing on Christmas cards next year, because the money you saved on the stationery will balance out the money you spend. Why not just state, “When you buy cards from this catalogue you can get a whopping 50 percent off your stationery at Simply Letterheads”? That seems like a strong enough proposition in and of itself, and as Lisa Simpson taught me, simplest is best.--SC

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