Thursday, 23 December 2010

Christmas turkeys

This morning the BBC had a segment in its news programme on how to disguise one’s disappointment at ill-conceived Christmas gifts. However, no amount of eye widening could make us pretend we like any of the following:

McDonalds Drive Thru Food Cart Playset

I’m not a parent, but I am sure that “When I grow up, I want to work in McDonalds” isn’t the phrase you’d want your eight-year-old to utter. Then there’s the associated childhood obesity concerns. Dear Toys R Us, whatever happened to stethoscopes, or if it has to be retail—fruit and veg?

Velform Hair Grow Plus

Hair-loss is often a traumatic experience; I have close friends and family members who lost all their hair through chemotherapy. And consider this too, if you have a receding hairline, would you really appreciate the Velform Hair Grow Plus for Christmas? This seems to me more fitting as a product you would buy at a pharmacy and test its efficacy in private, not in front of your entire family. It might be an excellent product, but as a Christmas present, I find it more than slightly tactless.

Multi-cat Toilet Seat
Seven out of seven cat owners I know would not like this for Christmas. I just don’t see why anyone, cat lover or not, would want the “multi-cat toilet seat”. But you’ve got to love The Cat Gallery’s copy accompanying the product: “The cat image is on both sides of the lid so you get to see it all the time.”--MT

Friday, 17 December 2010

Catalogue copy we love: Silver By Mail

While its prices may be far lower than those in Tiffany’s range, Silver By Mail does not skimp on descriptive product copy.

Copy in the Tiffany Christmas catalogue is functional: “Venetian link bracelet in sterling silver, £130” or “Tiffany Woven bracelet in sterling silver, narrow, £280”. In contrast, Silver By Mail, a name not as established as Tiffany, has to use more emotive copy--relying on feelings and senses to sell its wares. Virtually each one of the products in its latest catalogue is given at least two sentences of copy containing benefit and highlighting special features. A few examples:

Twistour Ring: “Silver liquid beauty, the gentle twist in this plain silver bans adds lush feminine curves to wear 24/7. Divine with that wrap dress and twisted straps”.

Autograph Bangle: “Slim and curvaceous, this slice of chic silver is so comfortable you’ll forget you’re wearing it until someone says they love it, again and again.”

Wedge Silver Earrings; “Petite hoops with a wedged profile to team with our favourite fashion shoes. Hinged at the base, they close around your lobe with no thread on show for seamless, go anywhere style.”

Silver By Mail then includes the dimensions of the product and available sizes. As a final nice touch, the catalogue also points readers to the website where matching items can be found and the whole range can be explored.--MT

Friday, 3 December 2010

November Catalogue Log

Christmas is coming and with it a rush of Christmas catalogues. In November we received and logged 167 catalogues, up 19.3 percent on last year’s 140 catalogues, and up 34.7 percent on November 2008, when we tracked 124 catalogues.

As volume increased, the number of special offers decreased. In November, we noted that just 46 of the catalogues we received, or 27.5 percent, promoted a discount or sale on the cover. This represents the lowest percentage of catalogues offering a special price promotion recorded in 2010. In fact, it’s the lowest percentage recorded since we began compiling the Catalogue Log back in late 2008. Up until now, April 2010 held the record for lowest percentage of sales and discounts, with 29.2 percent.

Clearly, cataloguers are watching their margins; sales and discounts were not the only promotion to decline during November. The number of catalogues promoting a free gift was also at its lowest for 2010, with just 8.4 percent, or 14 catalogues doing so. My favourite free gift promotion was from cosmetics retailer L’Occitane, which offered a goodie bag worth £25 with purchases of £35 or more.

Cataloguers were also shifting away from free shipping, with just 18 percent of front covers promoting free p&p. Among those offering free delivery, most opted for setting a spend threshold. Gifts marketer Aspen & Brown set quite a low threshold of £20, whilst craft supplies catalogue Baker Ross required customers to spend £75 online in order to qualify for free shipping.

Overall, more than half, 53.3 percent, of the catalogues we received last month did not promote any sort of special offer on the cover. Instead of special offers, some catalogues such as Lakeland, made customers aware of last order deadlines. Classicalia, the new brand from gifts cataloguer Nauticalia, opted for using the cover to highlight some of the products within, possibly to establish its range for new customers. Toys and games cataloguer/retailer Hawkin’s Bazaar, the self-proclaimed “Suppliers to Father Christmas since 1973”, went for a picture of a retro-looking, blast-of-colour snow globe full of toys on the cover. Toning it down for Christmas was homewares and gifts cataloguer Cox & Cox, which decided on a simple image of a mince pie tower and cocktail stick decorations.--MT

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Snow chance to get creative

In January this year, we chided direct marketers for failing to make the most of the cold snap to boost sales. So with temperatures plummeting again, and much of the UK hit by blizzards and ice, have marketers learnt their lesson?

As we pointed out last year, consumers are well aware of the difficult driving conditions, and expect that deliveries may take longer. Most retailers, for their part, are reassuring customers with up-to-date delivery information. Ethical Superstore, for example, suspended its next-day delivery option on 29th November until further notice due to adverse weather conditions in the north-east of England. Whilst John Lewis, Mark & Spencer, and Argos amongst others, all display notices of possible delays on their home pages. But, just as we said last year, inevitable delays will not deter people from shopping online. Indeed, as Alison Quill, managing director of toys and games cataloguer BrightMinds, posted on Twitter, rainy weather contributed to a significant rise in sales last month, “Will snow gave same effect as rain on mail order, or will customers be nervous about deliveries? Time will tell”.

So how exactly are direct sellers attracting those who are snowed in to visit their website? An email from Hotel Chocolat received this morning urged recipients to “Avoid the snow and order Christmas gifts online TODAY + Free Gifts Offer‏”. This, however, was the only mention of snow in the entire email. It was as though Hotel Chocolat had planned a Christmas-themed email and added snow to the subject line as an afterthought.

An email from the Fish Society, with the jolly subject line “Let it snow”, was actually rather brusque: “We will NOT despatch your order if delivery is threatened by snow”. Of course it makes perfect sense not to despatch perishable goods if they are unlikely to reach their destination before they spoil, but I feel the email could have had a more reassuring and sympathetic tone.

Another email, this time from gifts and gadgets etailer I Want One of Those, buried the snow theme halfway down its email titled “Give better gifts with IWOOT & 10% off Photogifts”. Another rather bland example is Crew Clothing which sent an email titled “Snowed in? Buy your Crew Winter warmers online!”. Exclamation point aside, there wasn’t much to get excited about.

So far, I haven’t received a snow-related email that was truly engaging. Perhaps retailers are all too busy trying to work around the snow in the run-up to Christmas to really get creative.

However, I did get an email from the dedicated folks at Derbyshire-based Dolls House Emporium. Most of them had been out in the car park this morning with shovels and makeshift snowploughs to clear and grit the way for the delivery vans. They even sent me a photo to prove it.--MT