TALES FROM THE FRONT

Feb 01, 2005 10:30 PM  By

Neiman Marcus zaps zeppelin rumors

Alert the media: Actor John Travolta did not order a Zeppelin NT from the Neiman Marcus holiday catalog. In early December numerous media outlets ran with the story that Travolta had splashed out $10 million for an eight-ton luxury zeppelin from the upscale Dallas-based cataloger/retailer. Only one problem: It didn’t happen. “I can confirm with 100% certainty that it’s not true,” said a Neiman Marcus spokesperson when contacted about the rumor. Considering that Travolta is a real-life aviator and owner of a Boeing 707, it didn’t seem far-fetched for the affluent actor to pick up one of the ostentatious airships. But since it’s apparently not true, we’ll suspend our scathing commentary on celebrity excesses. For this month, anyway.

Paris the star of Staples auction

Like some New York gossip columns, we had hoped to put a moratorium on mentions of Paris Hilton, but it’s harder than you’d think. At least this month, the celebutante/reality-television star was up to something good. A stapler signed by Hilton recently brought in more than $4,100 for the Staples Foundation for Learning as part of the Framingham, MA-based office supplies cataloger/retailer’s Staplers to the Stars online charity auction. The auction included more than 100 staplers signed by celebrities, authors, politicians, and business leaders such as Katie Couric, Bill Gates, and Rudy Giuliani. The Hilton stapler was the top draw. Those of Jennifer Love Hewitt ($3,005, benefiting St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital);, Bill Gates ($3,005, benefiting the Staples Foundation for Learning), Tiger Woods ($1,030, benefiting the Tiger Woods Foundation), and Donald Trump ($1,005, benefiting the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatrics AIDS Foundation) rounded out the top five.

Integration aggravation

A Catalog Age staffer who had registered with Macy’s received a wedding gift from the bridal registry in December. But of the two items in the package, one did not match the packing slip and was not even on the registry. The invoice clearly stated that the merchandise, which had been purchased via Macys.com, could be returned to any Macy’s store. Someone evidently forgot to explain this policy to the surly bridal registry consultant at the local Macy’s store, however. “I don’t sell these here, so I can’t take them back,” snapped the woman upon examining the four Waterford glasses that had been erroneously shipped. Why does the invoice say that you can return items to the store, asked the bewildered bride. “That’s only if the correct item was shipped,” she huffed. Uh, there was no mention of that particular clause anywhere, but okay, what are we going to do about this? After complaining loudly about Macys.com’s shortcomings (and about her toothache), the store employee called the Web division and proceeded to get into an argument with someone there. She finally had the Web unit issue a UPS call tag for the item. Gee, thanks — the bride could have done that herself! And she would have, had she known that the retailer’s return policies seem to be at the discretion of each store. Note to Macy’s: Poor service is one problem, but your customers will never believe that your channels are integrated if your own employees don’t believe it.

Was that 6 weeks or 16 weeks?

Another Catalog Age staffer in July ordered a piece of furniture from Gump’s by Mail that was expected to take six to eight weeks to deliver. At six weeks, the staffer called Gump’s for the status, and the rep advised her to call back in a week. The staffer called Gump’s every week for the next six weeks to see when she could expect delivery; each time the reps had no answer but promised to fax the manufacturer to find out. The staffer never did get an answer about the status, but she did eventually get her furniture — after more than four months of waiting. But at least when she contacted the cataloger to complain about the long delay and lack of updates, Gump’s waived the shipping fee, saving the staffer more than $200.

Software stems shoplifting

Computer models aren’t just for database marketing. Gifts and gadgets marketer Brookstone is using modeling software to help determine which store items are most likely to be shoplifted. This type of software, marketed by such firms as SPSS and Security Source, uses historical data on sales, returns, voided transactions, and inventory to identify suspicious patterns in store inventory “shrinkage” or theft. Such software helped Merrimack, NH-based Brookstone determine that a particular type of home audio equipment was likely to disappear from the store floor — which came as a surprise to the retailer, since it is a large, bulky item. The company now puts security tape that can be removed only by cashiers over the box handle, which makes it harder for shoplifters to lift the item.

SECRET SHOPPER

Holiday stocking

We know that many catalogers let you order right up until a few days before Christmas, but do they still have the goods in stock at that late date? To find out how marketers did this past season, Catalog Age’s Secret Shopper called 20 mailers and requested 60 items; of those, 36 items were available — an in-stock rate of 60%.

Catalog Requested/in stock Date called Christmas delivery still possible?
Brookstone (gadgets) 3/1 12/21 Yes, additional $38.15 overnight shipping charge
Burgers’ Smokehouse (food) 3/3 12/22 Yes
Calyx & Corolla (fresh flowers) 3/1 12/22 Yes, additional S&H charge of $20-$30
Campmor (camping gear) 3/2 12/22 Yes, additional S&H charge of $23.95
Harry and David (food) 3/3 12/22 Yes, additional S&H charge of $14.95
J. Crew (apparel) 3/0 * 12/22 N/A
L.L. Bean (apparel, outdoor gear) 3/3 12/22 Yes, if order placed before 9 p.m.
Lands’ End (apparel) 3/2 12/21 Yes
Lane Bryant (apparel) 3/3 12/22 Yes, if order placed before 1 p.m
Lenox Collections (gifts) 3/0 12/21 N/A
Magic Cabin Dolls (toys) 3/1 ** 12/21 N/A
Metropolitan Museum of Art (gifts) 3/1 12/22 Yes, additional S&H charge of $19.95
National Wildlife Federation (gifts) 3/3 12/22 $25 via FedEx
Popcorn Factory (food) 3/0 *** 12/22 No
Pottery Barn Kids (decor) 3/2 **** 12/22 Yes, additional S&H charge of $15
Sharper Image (gadgets) 3/2 12/22 Yes
Spilsbury (gifts) 3/3 12/22 Yes, additional S&H charge of $24.95
Sundance Catalog (apparel, decor) 3/2 12/22 Yes
Title Nine Sports (apparel) 3/1 12/22 Yes, additional S&H charge of $25.90
Wisconsin Cheeseman (food) 3/3 12/22 Yes, if order placed before noon, add’l $8 S&H charge
*Two items were available in other sizes/colors
**Expected a shipment of one item between Dec. 22-27 but no guarantee of arrival
***Delivery problems caused by snow
****Rep offered to call local stores to check their inventory for the out-of-stock item

CONTACT US…

E-mail: mweinstein@primediabusiness.com
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