Waiting with an open mailbox

Surveys and studies consistently show that print catalogs are one of the most effective ways of driving Web sales. But judging from the Catalog Tracker mailbox, not all multichannel merchants are taking the data to heart.

In September, for instance, the service of Greenwich, CT-based list services firm Direct Media received 415 consumer catalogs, down more than 8% from the 453 received in September 2005. For the entire third quarter of 2006, Catalog Tracker logged in 1,050 consumer catalogs, 5.4% fewer than the 1,111 received the previous third quarter. And for the first nine months of 2006, Catalog Tracker received 3,182 catalogs, down 3.6% from the 3,300 received during the first nine months of last year. In fact, for every month except February, year-over-year volume was down in 2006.

While catalog volume may have been down this past September, the percentage of books offering free shipping and handling was up, to 12% from 11% in September 2005. But the percentage of deferred-billing offers had declined, from 8% in September 2005 to 6%.

The percentage of catalogs offering some sort of gift with purchase held steady at 6%. These ranged from video mailer Acorn’s offer of a free DVD to Yankee Candle’s promise of buy two, get the third free.

Among other promotions, Activa, which sells fitness gear for women, touted free returns. Two catalogers, gifts book Music Stand and World’s Finest Chocolate, offered free personalization. Home decor mailer Company Store offered free monogramming, but only until Nov. 15. Another home decor merchant, Sturbridge Yankee Workshop, invited recipients to take an online survey and enter to win a $1,000 gift certificate. And toy merchant Constructive Playthings was so eager to drive traffic to its Website that it promised $10 off orders placed online.

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