As things stand, October 2011 has very little in common with the same month in 2010. For starters, last October was a lot less promotional. A third of catalogues, 33.3 percent, featured a discount or special price promotion on the cover in October 2011, compared with 41.9 percent of catalogues doing so last month. Among those using sales to lure customers was Hotel Chocolat’s Chocolate Tasting Club mailer, which promised a saving of £12 on introductory selections. Gifts marketer Cox & Cox offered to slash its prices by 25 percent, and quirky gifts boutique Bombay Duck hit recipients with a double whammy of 15 percent off and free delivery if they spent more than £30.
Speaking of free delivery, I noted a marked difference in the number of catalogues touting free shipping on the cover in 2011 compared with 2010. Last October, we logged a mention of free delivery on almost one in five covers. In 2011, it was featured on just 14.4 percent of covers and often it was teamed up with another deal. Nostalgia-inspired gifts retailer Past Times offered an early-bird discount of 15 percent for orders placed before 15th November, coupled with free p&p when customers spent £40 or more—and free returns. RNLI’s Christmas gifts catalogue asked customers to spend more than £25 to benefit from free delivery, while catering supplies cataloguer BlueU promoted its offer of free delivery to UK mainland addresses as well as promising to beat a competitor’s prices, or £50 back.
Another trend highlighted by the Catalogue Log is that at this time of year, free gifts fall out of favour with cataloguers. In October 2010, 10.2 percent of covers promoted free gifts. In October 2011, a mere 10 out of 167 catalogues did the same, representing just 6 percent of the month’s crop—the lowest percentage we’ve recorded to date. What our data shows is that for the last quarter of the year, free gifts suffer a decline. They pick up again in the first quarter, with January being one of the most popular months for free gifts—too much overstock to shift, perhaps?
Where October 2010 and 2011 are almost identical, however, is that during both months more than half of all the covers we logged made no mention of a special offer at all. Last year—and the year before—we posited that this was because cataloguers buried their special offers within the catalogue or on carrier sheets. I noticed this tactic again in 2011, silk flowers marketer Bloom promoted free delivery on orders of £60 or more on an insert within the polywrapped catalogue; nightwear catalogue Charlotte & Co used a similar move to offer customers 20 percent off, while Lakeland and Inverawe Smokehouses used the covering letter as a place to promote their special money-saving deals. From this I infer that by avoiding splashing a special deal on the cover, cataloguers can mail the same book and test various offers to gauge response. That certainly makes more sense than commissioning expensive reprints.
On a side note, I’ve already earmarked some of October’s catalogues for the annual roundup of our favourite Christmas covers. I’ll be blogging on the best festive covers next month, so please do send your Christmas mailers to our usual office address or email your favourites to firstname.lastname@example.org.--MT