Do consumers get Catalog Choice et al?

What began as a session at the spring NEMOA conference on how kitchen/home products merchant Williams-Sonoma uses customer data in its contact strategies turned into a debate about the pros and cons of catalog opt-out services.

Peter Grebus, Williams-Sonoma’s vice president of customer information management, said that organizations such as Green Dimes and Catalog Choice, which offer services for consumers to opt out of receiving catalogs, have made life difficult for mailers.

“The goal of all direct marketers is to mail only to someone who wants to buy,” Grebus said during the March 13 session in Cambridge, MA. “But the advent of companies like Green Dimes and Catalog Choice have changed this conversation in an unfavorable way.”

For example, Grebus said Williams-Sonoma analyzed a Green Dimes file that contained all of the company’s opt-outs to determine the impact. And in the case of its Pottery Barn title, 77% of those who opted out had purchased from the brand at some time. What’s more, those consumers spent upwards of $18 million, and 53% of them had made purchases in the past 24 months, totaling $4.6 million.

Grebus suggested that consumers may not understand what they’re getting into when they opt out through these services — perhaps they don’t mean to opt out at all.

Liz Pearce, director of marketing for home decor title Country Curtains, agreed: “I’m actually getting catalog requestors through Catalog Choice.” Consumers are on a site to opt out of catalogs, and instead they are requesting them,” Pearce said.

But Catalog Choice representative April Smith said her group “has a robust system in place to address fraud, and we’re also willing to work with any merchant who has any concern about the data.” She added that “We can send secondary information to make sure that people on your file truly requested to be removed.”

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