Tuesday, 1 December 2009

November Catalogue Log

Christmas came early for our posties, in the form of far fewer catalogues to deliver in November than the previous two months. Catalogue e-business logged in 140 catalogues for the month, down nearly 24 percent from the 184 received in October and down 34 percent from September’s 212 catalogues. No doubt some of the decline in volume was due to fears of continued postal strikes; it wasn’t until 5th November that the Communication Workers Union agreed not to strike against Royal Mail at least until after Christmas.

Catalogue volume wasn’t the only element to decline from October to November. So did the percentage of catalogues touting promotions. In November, 31.4 percent of the catalogues offered sales and discounts, down significantly from 41.3 percent in October. While 14.3 percent of the November catalogues promised a gift with purchase, 16.8 percent of the October catalogues had.

The percentage promising free delivery slid to 19.3 percent in November from 21.7 percent in October. Most of the free P&P offers were unconditional, incidentally, with only a handful (Baker Ross, Hawkins Bazaar, JML Direct, Lands’ End) tying it to a specific spending level.

Overall, nearly half of the November catalogues—49.3 percent to be precise—did not resort to special offers, compared with 41.3 percent of those received in October.

It appears that more merchants are trying to wring maximum margins from the all-important fourth quarter. Email and social media make this decision somewhat less risky than it used to be: If a cataloguer finds that full-price sales are falling short of goal, it can easily and quickly put together a promotional email and spread the word via Facebook and Twitter of special offers.

Among the more notable offers was a free upgrade to a Louisiana alligator watch strap with the purchase of a specific watch from Christopher Ward. The watchmaker also has what is one of my favourite slogans: “Time on your side”. Toys catalogue Letterbox had a nice tiered-discount scheme: 10 percent off orders up to £150, 15 percent off orders over £150. My only quibble with that promotion was the typography and wording of the message; I had to reread it nearly a half-dozen times before the words “up to” versus “over” jumped out at me. Maybe if they’d been in bold I wouldn’t have been so confused. (Or maybe I just need new glasses…)

Boden offered a 10 percent discount, plus free shipping, plus another £10 off. “I owe you a huge apology,” read the covering letter. “It took us far too long to realise that the catalogue you requested had not been sent to you. To atone for this blunder I’d like to give you a free tenner. You can use it on top of the offer printed on the cover.” To quote my colleague Miri, “Is there anything Boden doesn’t do right?”

Several of the October catalogues made a point of highlighting the cut-off dates for Christmas delivery, and as expected, more of the November editions did so. Some were refreshingly specific: Children’s furniture brand Aspace stated on page 3 “Order before 4pm on 22nd December for Christmas delivery”; apparel cataloguer Lands’ End has a deadline of 10pm on 21st December; Montezuma’s Chocolates gives a deadline of 21st December for standard delivery and 22nd December for express.

But let's not end a blog post concerning Christmas shopping on such a matter-of-fact note. Here are two of our favourite catalogue covers that adorned our inboxes this month:

All together now: Awwww--SC

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