The Top Catalog Metric: Early Sales

What’s the best predictor of catalog success?

Early sales.

That is, the relative performance of each list and segment is typically set in the first two weeks of a campaign. And the ability to project sales settles down in the month after the first order.

Veteran catalogers know that a campaign that starts hot stays hot and one that starts slowly rarely gathers momentum. So pay careful attention to what happens in the first weeks so you can predict as early as possible how each catalog campaign is going to perform.

What can you tell from the early stages of a catalog’s life? You can tell if you are going to fail – books that start poorly rarely recover.

Early trends are reliable when forecasting the full life of the catalog. You can compare week versus week sales for the first two or three weeks, tear-over-year sales, sales compared to the plan or to budget and sales compared to the last campaign.

You should highlight “home run” products and “strikeout” products as early as possible to better manage inventory and demand based on early sales. You should also get a snapshot of the effect of promotional offers.

The earlier you get results on your mailing, the easier it is to calibrate future mailings. How do you do that? By cutting back on circ that isn’t working, or ramping up the circ that is. The sooner you can identify the marginal prospecting names, the quicker you can prune them from future mailings and preserve profitability.

Jim Coogan is president of Santa Fe, NM-based consultancy Catalog Marketing Economics.

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