Beyond the basics of squinch

What do you think of when you hear “square-inch analysis? You probably know it’s a useful tool for merchandising and pagination; a tool that guides decisions on space allocation, page count and numbers of products in a given category.

But if that’s all you’re using squinch for, you’re missing out on a wealth of valuable insights that can help you in decision-making across the board.

Squinch is an analysis that looks at the profitability of a catalog at the product or category level, helping you to anticipate customer behaviors. It determines the effectiveness of your offline space, measuring the advertising dollars allowed per space (square inches) against dollars generated (preferably net sales). It’s a dynamic merchandising tool, guiding far-reaching decisions such as which categories to grow, what products to develop, and what price point to expand.

A detailed squinch is a glimpse into your customers’ minds: They are telling you what they want to buy from you. But while many catalogers claim to use a square-inch analysis, few really take advantage of this important piece of research to guide key decisions.

A squinch is not just for merchandisers, nor is it used only to look at what worked post mortem. It’s a potent tool to help you make decisions about marketing, segmentation, e-mail, online presentation and navigation, pay-per-click, pagination and cover selection.


Marketers often build a contact strategy without considering the information available through the squinch analysis. This is a huge mistake. With a little examination, a squinch can lead you to tactics that will make your marketing efforts much more effective.

Product assortment

Do you have one or several standout products, or a category killer that outsells other products every time? Consider highlighting your flagship product in a solo package or postcard mailing. It will keep you top-of-mind with customers and serve as a reminder of the quality they have come to expect from your product.

Think about how the season will affect the mailing. When you need to save money during an unprofitable time of year, a squinch can help you identify your best-selling products to promote in a smaller, more cost-effective catalog sent to your best customers.

You can also take a look at what prospects are buying compared to repeat customers. If the merchandise is quite different from what customers are buying, it may be worth creating a prospect catalog or a single-product solo package offering.

Create space ads for quality lead generation

Once you’ve identified the products and themes that most appeal to prospects, test this information with a compelling offer in a space ad. Many multichannel companies use this technique with proven results — sometimes making a profit on prospecting.

Of course, it must be the right product with the right offer, and internal data should guide your decision.

Improve e-mails

Since the investment required to send e-mails is so low, the tendency is to use this channel to get rid of excess product. But right now is a great time to get more discerning with e-mail marketing.

Use this low-cost medium to get personal, looking at your squinch by customer, product, price, offer — even color — to get the right product in front of the right person at the right price point. Using customer-generated data to communicate relevant offers can increase e-mail conversion results.

Specialize offers by segment

Make your marketing efforts more robust by drilling down to customer-, product- and offer- level detail. Identify several key customer profiles and examine their sales data for recurring themes and product lines.

Determine what offers they’ve responded to in the past, and use that information to build pertinent offers for the audience that is most likely to be receptive. For instance, some marketers have successfully created profitable solo packages, targeted to specific customers, and segmented by buying behavior with specific product offerings.


You may have already considered ways to take your carefully planned pagination and apply it to your Website organization and layout. But that’s just the beginning.

Look at these key areas to make sure you’re taking full advantage of the data available to you.

Paginate to build a better converting piece

Just as you would paginate your print catalog, use the squinch to allocate space on the Web. If a product is more than pulling its “profitability” weight, consider giving it more space, positioning it as a “hero” on the Web page or even letting it show up multiple times.

Then find opportunities to increase the average order by placing a meaningful product next to a best seller. For instance, if a dress is a best seller, group it with “known” matching accessories.

Another number to examine is the “average price sold,” a metric that shows what prices your customers are looking for within a given category. Products with popular price points should be both plentiful and highly noticeable on the Web page — even showing up in hot spots.

Correlate online conversion data with squinch analysis

The next step is to focus your online presentation by correlating your offline squinch analysis with your online conversion data. Explore what items are purchased with more frequency online; it could vary considerably from the offline channels. Use that information to create the strongest online presentation possible.

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While you base a catalog’s success on per-inch real estate, use page views at the item level and overall conversion stats to get a read on the online productivity. Combining these two views of the data gives you the clearest visibility to those “uber-products” that drive your business.

Define Web navigation and descriptions

Look for obvious category breaks in your squinch, then use them to craft your navigation. Take note of words and themes that keep coming up among your best-selling items and use them to create themed product category pages.

A food merchant we’ve worked with, Wolferman’s English Muffins, noticed that items with the word “breakfast” consistently performed better than those without. Wolferman’s translated that information into additional sales dollars by using the term “breakfast” in its online navigation tools.

Pay-per-click keywords

As you delve into a detailed squinch, sorting it in multiple ways, themes and words will begin to appear. Use those words to assist you in testing keywords in your search programs.

Highlight best-selling colors, price points and presentations

It seems obvious, but if your best-selling color for a product offline is red, then lead with red online.

Create home pages per customer buckets

Using squinch, you can often find customer segments that share buying propensities. Offline, you would create specific covers or postcards; online, you can use cookie technology to personalize the customer experience.

Create several different versions of a home page and use cookies to take second- and third-time site visitors to a landing page that most reflects their viewing and buying propensities found in a squinch. That way, you lead these shoppers straight to the items that are most likely to catch their attention, guiding them deeper into the site and ultimately toward a purchase.


You may feel like you’re already doing a good job of using hotspots for your best-selling products. But using readability studies as a guide is only half of the answer. You should also rely on the information provided by your own database.

Follow the rule of thumb

Remember the “50/80 Rule” — if 80% of the pages in the catalog are profitable (according to squinch), you probably have an opportunity to grow your catalog page count.

Likewise, if 80% of the products in a category are profitable, you may have an opportunity to grow the category. Put the two together and you’ll be adding pages by growing the most profitable categories that customers want.

At the other end, if 50% or less of the pages in the catalog or products in a category are unprofitable, you probably should be cutting back and putting the budget somewhere else.

Use eye-flow studies to your full advantage

You should already be putting your best-selling products in hotspots such as the opening and closing spreads and the upper-right-hand corner of a spread. Where catalog design is concerned, democracy is the kiss of death.

It’s okay to have a smaller product presentation on a modest-performing product in order to give more space to a breakaway hero. Use space to your advantage, creating dynamic, interesting spreads that lead customers’ eyes around the layout in a meaningful way.

Look beyond hot spots

If you have a runaway bestseller, take the time to discover why the product is so popular. If it’s already in a hot spot, consider giving it a full spread or a themed spread among products with similar features.

Ask your designers to consider what graphic elements are leading some products to be more successful than others. You might be surprised at what they find.

For instance, a clothing company may look at a squinch by specific models. This not only allows the merchant to hire the most effective models, but also guides the designer on where to place products shown on those models.

A food gift cataloger might break it down by the container type in which the food is sold — for instance, baskets, tins, towers.

Select covers by segmentation

If you find out that certain customer segments tend to buy certain categories of products, increase your chances of getting them inside the catalog by sending a cover version that reflects their buying habits. The cover is your biggest opportunity to increase results — don’t waste it!

If your catalog appeals to both consumers and businesses, separating the two in a squinch might allow you to create covers or versions that better appeal to each audience.

Recurring themes are important to catalog customers. If you’ve done a good job of analyzing what customers are buying, themes will begin to surface.

Some companies will even use themes as a method for sorting their squinch. Within your creative presentation, take advantage of any opportunity to create these popular themed spreads. Customers gravitate to them if your data is correct.

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One cooking products cataloger noticed significant sales in any items related to baking pies. So it created themed spreads around the “art of baking pies.” While the products were ordinary — pie pans, rolling pins, pie-baking accessories, and so on — the theme engaged readers and increased the catalog’s results.

Having all of the information in your arsenal is only part of the battle to create an effective marketing effort. Take another look at your squinch analysis and ask what you can do to take it one step further.

Challenge your marketing, creative and Web design teams to brainstorm new ways to look at the data to gain insight into the customer mind. The squinch is a rich and versatile tool, one that yields many opportunities to create response-boosting results. l

Lois Boyle-Brayfield is president and Steve Trollinger is executive vice president for J. Schmid & Associates (, a catalog consultancy based in Mission, KS.




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