Sometimes One More Mailing Can Be Too Many

Often our initial observations of a cataloger’s house file contact strategies reveal a distinct under-use, particularly among a company’s best, most recent buyers. Our recommendation, especially for those operating highly seasonal businesses, has been to maximize the number of contacts to the house file, mailing separately versioned catalogs every four weeks and perhaps even every three weeks.

Occasionally, though, we encounter companies that buck this trend, such as one multichannel retailer specializing in school supplies.

As one might expect, the core buying season for parents purchasing school supplies is roughly July through September, with August by far and away the best month.

Using this logic, we conducted a test in which our best, most recent buyers were mailed three and four times within the core season:

  • Control contact strategy: In-homes roughly July 6, Aug. 2, and Sept. 7, 2006 (27-35 day gaps between mailings)
  • Test contact strategy: In-homes roughly June 27, July 18, Aug. 8, and Sept. 6, 2006 (20-23 day gaps between mailings, a shortening of about a week for each contact)

Theoretically, we believed that the buyers mailed four times would supply incremental sales above and beyond what those mailed just three times would generate – enough to justify the additional contact. The results, however, suggest there is a limited effectiveness to mailing a fourth book. (
click to view results)

Our test shows that we have reached the point of diminishing returns—the additional contact, in fact, produced a slight decline in total orders and sales generated in the back-to-school season. Contributing factors include:

  1. School supplies are a planned purchase with distinct utility. Unlike fashion apparel or toy catalogs, which thrive on parents spontaneously spending disposable income, customers buying specific necessary supplies are more deliberate and are likely using nondisposable monies. The failure of the test suggests that there is a pre-determined and finite amount of money customers will spend in the merchandise category during the core season.
  2. In comparison to July and September, August, the middle month of the core three-month buying season, accounts for 60%-65% of the ordering activity. Perhaps for most customers the buying cycle is even tighter than three months. In 2007, we tested reducing the number of contacts to two from the usual three.

These results are counterintuitive to the results we see with most of our clients. The key here is to test and understand the dynamics of your own customer file.

Todd Miller is director of business to business services at San Rafael, CA-based consultancy Lenser.

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