Mailing replay

It may be July, but merchants are already feeling a nip in the air. They’ve got only a few weeks to figure out their holiday remail strategy, and that will be harder this year given the economic downturn and declining print sales.

How does your plan stack up against everyone else’s? The signs are that mailers are cutting back on prospecting, and that means they’ll be doing more remailing, says Wayne Doleski, president of catalog consultancy Black Bee. And he approves.

“Do we change mailing strategies based upon the economy? A little, but when the economy tightens it’s also an opportunity,” he adds.

Remailing is the practice of sending a second or third catalog to customers after they’ve purchased or failed to respond to the first one. It is usually done in the fourth quarter for the holiday season, but the strategy has to be in place by the end of August.

Why the fourth quarter? Because it’s the best time of the year for increasing contact with customers and prospects, says Geoff Batrouney, executive vice president of list firm Estee Marketing Group. Batrouney adds that remailing can increase your share of wallet — no small thing when consumers have so many buying channels from which to choose.

“Remember, we are competing not only against the other catalogs but also against Wal-Mart, Target, Sears and Home Depot,” he says.

Here are the major types of remailing:

  • Traditional

    This means the mailer sends the same book. “The cover is the same,” says Phil Wiland, president of the co-op database service Wiland Direct. “The back cover is the same. The inside is the same. The prices are the same. Everything is the same.”

  • With a fresh wrap

    The inside may be identical, but the front and back covers are different, as are the inside front cover and the inside back cover. But you can also change the first and last few pages, Wiland adds.

  • With full repagination

    The products are identical, but the creative is fresh and items have been moved around to create the illusion of a completely new catalog. Out-of-inventory items may have been dropped and replaced by overstock items.

  • As a package insert

    Send an insert, and you will catch your customer (or gift recipient) at an emotional high point — when the package is received. Black Bee client Chukar Cherries, the food gift cataloger, has done this with good results. “If you don’t put that in front of someone while they are eating, they aren’t going to think about going to you for their gifts,” says Doleski. “You never have that time to convert them again.”

But which catalog should you insert — your main one or a niche title? Sierra Trading Post tested the latter, but it didn’t work, says Chari Larue, catalog marketing manager for the outdoor gear merchant. So this year the firm will use its core title as a package insert.


But this is no game for amateurs. “Remailing is a great strategy,” says Wiland. “But it must be done wisely and carefully.”

That means deciding “which type of remail is best, when to send it, and how many best customers should receive it,” Wiland adds.

With that in mind, here are some tips.

  • Print it now

    Gina Valentino, owner of catalog consultancy Hemisphere Marketing, has one client that is having its holiday books printed but not bound. This way, it can change the cover offers and save on overall printing expenses.

    “The baseline is this: Do I not send anything and risk losing the customer, or do I print my remails right now and be the most economical?” Valentino says. “You already paid up front for the printing, you’re just keeping them on the machine longer.”

    What can you do to make the remail catalog look different? You can use new teaser copy, or put in a dot-whack to announce a promotion or a shipping date guarantee, Valentino says. Or you can change your cover item. If an inside product turns out to be more popular, you can easily move it up.

    Chukar Cherries learned this lesson last year. It saw a 15% increase in sales over holiday 2006. But it did not have its best products on its first cover, says Doleski. It started with lower price points and saw an initial lift, then did a cover with higher price points, and that also worked, Doleski says.

  • Don’t remail everyone

    Here’s another question: Who should you remail to this holiday season? Should you base your selection on recency, frequency, and monetary value? Or should a second catalog go to everyone who has made a holiday purchase? Whatever the type, a remailed catalog should be sent to fewer customers than the first edition.

    How do you determine that? “As a general rule, the less the catalog has changed, the lower the percentage of customers who should receive it,” Wiland says. “Actual experience will vary from brand to brand, but the right number for a remail might be as low as 30% of the number who received the first edition.”

    In contrast, Wiland says a remail with a full repagination might perform well if sent to 90% of the customers who received the first edition.

    “A firm that does not know from experience how deep it can go with the type of remail it plans would probably be wise to be conservative, mailing only to 30% to 50% as many customers as received the first edition,” Wiland says. “And, obviously, it should mail the very best customers, including new ones who came in since the first edition was mailed.”

    Other sources agree.

    “For most companies, nearly all their profit comes from their buyers,” Doleski says. “So you would like the remail volume to be as high as possible. I would suggest that in the best buying season you look to remail a minimum of 50% of your buyers.”

    Valentino counters that the P&L should dictate the quantity.

    “Anyone just starting out would probably use the top 40% of the original mailing,” she says. “For planning purposes, I traditionally take a 20% reduction in dollars-pre-book revenue performance. Of course, everyone is different, which is why it’s important for companies to test and analyze the remail strategy.”

  • Mail it close to Christmas

    How close? The nearer to the guaranteed delivery date, the better, since last-minute shopping tends to accelerate during this period, Valentino says.

“The closer you get into the mail box to the time of need, the better off you are — as long as you can still provide the service,” Valentino says. “If you can be in home Dec. 2 and still ship product as you regularly would, that’s gangbusters. Some customers don’t care if they pay more to ship to get it to the right place on time, they just want to get their shopping done.”

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