Pushing (out) the envelope

Looking to save on postage costs in light of the expected January rate hike? Try removing the return envelope adjacent to the bound-in order form. Catalogers such as The Mark Group, Knight’s Ltd., Eddie Bauer, The Last Best Place, and TopiX Innovation Gallery have, and they say response hasn’t suffered.

For certain, the savings on postage and production cannot be ignored. Once the envelope is removed from the catalog, the book becomes lighter, and less weight means less postage.

“We removed the entire order form in all three of our catalogs about two years ago, and doing so saved us tremendously,” says Seth Miller, chief financial officer of Boca Raton, FL-based cataloger The Mark Group, which mails women’s apparel books Boston Proper and Mark, Fore, & Strike and gifts title Charles Keath. “The fact that you’re not putting a bound-in glued piece in a catalog is a huge cost savings,” says Miller, who estimates that the move saves “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” with no decline in response.

St. Louis-based multititle apparel and home furnishings cataloger Knight’s Ltd. has saved $750,000 since it removed the envelope from home decor title Home Decorators Collection in the summer of 1999, says vice president of operations Steve Kessler. In any given drop, Knight’s Ltd. saves about $82,000 in postage, $95,000 on the order form itself, and $11,000 in ink-jetting costs (from when catalogers display special offers or sales ink-jetted on the reverse side of the envelope).

Kessler admits he was surprised that removing the envelope did not hurt response. Nor did response at women’s apparel cataloger Barrie Pace suffer when it removed the envelope last year, says Gina Valentino, the former director of marketing for the Chicago-based marketer and now with Spiegel.

For Barrie Pace, removing the envelope also meant finding a place in the book to promote the high-volume, low-ticket offers that it used to sell on the envelope. “Instead, we moved those offers to the mail order blank itself,” Valentino says.

Lower mail orders? According to the Catalog Age Benchmark Report on Operations (March 15 issue), more than twice as many orders come in by phone than by mail. Among benchmark survey participants, a mean of 27.5% of all orders were received via mail, compared to 58.5% via telephone.

Nonetheless, enough orders come in by mail that some catalogers don’t want to risk alienating customers by removing the envelope, thereby making it even slightly more difficult to place an order. Lingerie cataloger/retailer Frederick’s of Hollywood, for one, intends to keep its envelope, says marketing manager Danielle Savin. About 30% of Frederick’s catalog orders still arrive through the mail, she notes.

At The Mark Group, only 7% of orders came in by mail, says Miller – and even after the cataloger removed its return envelope, that number hasn’t changed. “And we’ve received no complaints from our customers,” he adds.

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