I was talking to a former ecommerce director recently who told me of his time at the online retailer he previously worked at. He and his team had been working on a free delivery offer that was supposed to be emailed to only the most loyal segment of the database. Instead, he had hit send to the entire—considerably large—customer list. While he was getting ready to grovel to the boss and apologise for eroding margins, the results of the promotion came in showing a major sales uplift and a healthy ROI. From then on, free delivery became a staple offer.
Perhaps taking a leaf out of the same book, free delivery is also a staple offer on catalogue covers. Consistently throughout 2012, free delivery has featured on around one-fifth to one-quarter of all cover lines. In October, free delivery was promoted on 26.3 percent, or 45 out of 171 catalogue covers. Not only is that the highest percentage for 2012, it’s the highest percentage we've ever logged, narrowly beating March 2012’s 26.1 percent. Among those promoting free shipping were Cath Kidston (free delivery on order of £30 or more), Dukeshill Ham (free delivery on a first order), Hayloft Plants (free p&p on orders of £50 or more) and Traidcraft, which set no conditions.
As with previous months, many cataloguers teamed up free delivery with another offer. One of the most promotionally heavy mailers during October was arts and crafts books seller Search Press, which offered a free book with orders of £40 or more, free p&p on all orders of £15 or more—extended to free delivery for all online orders, and a free gift with every purchase. Another bookseller, Red House, promoted selected titles at half price or less, free delivery and a free calendar when spending £25 or more.
While we’re on the topic of freebies, free gifts were slightly more popular than they had been in September, featuring on 8.8 percent of the catalogues we logged. That’s slightly higher than October 2011, but lower than the 10.2 percent we tracked in October 2010.
All told, 60 percent of the 171 catalogues we tracked in October featured some sort of special offer. That’s the highest percentage since June and much more promotional than October in 2011 or 2010, which both hovered around the 50 percent mark. It's also worth noting at this point that catalogue volume was up again in October; 171 catalogues compared with 167 in October 2011.
The most popular offer promoted on catalogues last month was still a discount or sale, which saw a resurgence in October. We tallied 74 catalogues, 43.3 percent, touting a special price promotion, including Elderberry (Save 10 percent on order of £40 or more), Evans (20 percent off an order of £40 or more), Lands’ End (25 percent off everything) and Tradewinds Direct (10 percent off everything).
Last year, we tracked a similar percentage (41.9 percent) offering a sale or discount on the cover. It was followed by a steep drop in November (to 32.6 percent) and then back up to 53.7 percent for the final Christmas push. The same pattern was recorded in 2010, with the popularity of price-based promotions declining appreciably in November and soaring again in December. I will be keeping my eyes peeled as to whether the trend continues in 2012.--MT
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