Not so many March mailings

The weak U.S. economy has seen catalogers tightening their belts, and now it appears they have changed their mailing habits. Numbers reported by Catalog Tracker, a service of Greenwich, CT-based list firm Direct Media, show that there were 20% fewer catalogs in its mail box in March 2008 compared to the same month last year.

But the numbers do not indicate if it’s because catalogers are mailing just to hotline buyers, taking a break from prospecting, or just mailing less frequently.

Catalog Tracker logged 301 catalogs in March, down from 376 in March 2007. Despite the drop, there were five new titles in its mailbox this month: Food and gourmet merchants Big Island Candies and Ferrara; travel titles Earthwatch and Viking River Cruises; and apparel and accessories book Patrick James.

More catalogers looked to entice buyers with free shipping offers. According to the service, 17% offered free shipping in March, compared to 11% in the same month last year.

Merchants were also offering discounted shipping. Gifts title Creative Irish Gifts promoted $4.95 standard shipping for online orders, as did children’s products merchant Learning Resources and apparel and accessories book Norm Thompson.

General merchant Tender Heart Treasures topped that with a $2.99 shipping offer, while apparel and accessories title Roaman’s trumped that with a 99-cent shipping deal.

And despite creditors tightening their belts, the percentage of catalogers offering deferred billing promotions also jumped from 6% offering it in March 2007 to 9% this past March.

Some merchants tried to further entice prospects by adding to their deferred billing promotions. Home decor and housewares book Brylane Home offered a 35% discount to first-time buyers, and apparel and accessories title Chadwick’s promoted a 50% discount for new customers.

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