It’s raining discounts

In “Sales up, but what about profits?” (left), a rise in first-quarter revenue among b-to-b merchants is credited in part to “a fundamentally strong U.S. economy.” But judging from the contents of Catalog Tracker’s mailbox in April, some mailers believe that the rally has suffered a setback. Not only was year-over-year catalog volume down 4%, but the percentage of mailers offering promotions was up.

A service of Greenwich, CT-based list services firm Direct Media, Catalog Tracker received 398 consumer catalogs in April, compared with 415 in April 2004. That’s the third straight month of year-over-year volume declines. In March 2005, volume was down less than 1% from March 2004, while February’s year-over-year volume was down almost 7%.

Meanwhile, a whopping 14% of the catalogs received in April 2005 offered free shipping and handling, up from 12% the previous month and 9% the previous April. The percentage of catalogs touting deferred billing rose to 8% from 7% the previous April. Then again, that’s still less than March 2005’s 9%.

In addition, nearly one in five catalogs — 17% — boasted of sales, discounts, and percentage- and dollar-off promotions. Gifts with purchase were less popular; only 4% of catalogs offered them.

Though special offers were plentiful, they weren’t imaginative; no unusual contests or promotions appeared in Catalog Tracker’s mailbox. Nor were the cover lines of the catalogs especially inspiring. Children’s Wear Digest promised “Hot Colors for a Cool Summer,” and “reading tools” merchant Levenger said it was “Putting the Extra in Extraordinary.” And while other gift purveyors made mention of Mom (apparel catalog Bloomingdale’s, for instance, declared “Mom’s the Word”), Paragon Gifts looked even further ahead, dubbing its late April issue the “Happy Father’s Day 2005” edition.

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