Answer Me This

A recent New Yorker cartoon showed a woman saying to her husband, Let’s do our civic duty and see a Broadway show. Immediately following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, it seems that patriotism, as much as if not more than desire, was driving consumer spending.

As I write this in early October, though, people are also occupied by less noble but equally vital concerns: Will my job be eliminated now that the economy is tumbling? Will I earn enough in commissions or a bonus to justify spending as much as I’d planned this holiday season? Will my son/brother/cousin be sent to fight overseas, and if so, should I begin putting aside more in savings should the worst happen?

For catalogers, these concerns lead to one big question: What the hell should I be doing now?

As this month’s cover story reveals, some catalogers are cutting holiday circulation and reducing prospecting — conserving their resources for when the economy picks up. Others have already mailed their holiday books, or they have had them printed and so feel that they might as well send them all out. A number of marketers are scrambling to come up with incentives, discounts, and other special offers should they find their warehouses still brimming with merchandise come mid-December.

Several news articles during the past few weeks have indicated that brick-and-mortar retailers plan to introduce some red, white, and blue to their traditional red and green this holiday season, in case patriotism resurges as a motivation to shop (especially now that the U.S. has started military retaliations against the Taliban). Expect Santa Claus to look a lot like Uncle Sam, said one shopping mall manager.

In lieu of sending Santa Sam postcards to your house file, you could try to boost business by donating a percentage of sales to a relief organization. Then, though, you run the danger of overpromoting your intentions — the last thing you want is to seem to be benefiting from the deaths of the nearly 6,000 civilians killed on Sept. 11. Nor do you want to try to guilt prospects and customers into buying. A classic National Lampoon cover featured a photo of a fluffy dog with a gun being held to his temple. The cover line: “Buy this magazine or we’ll kill this dog.” “Buy our merchandise or we won’t donate to charity” is not a highly sympathetic message either.

When it comes to how to continue going about the business of selling, I’ve been hearing lots of questions from catalogers, and few answers. And that seems appropriate, in a way. After all, since Sept. 11, it seems that we all have lots of questions, and very few answers.

For the latest industry news, updated daily, visit the Catalog Age Website at www.CatalogAgemag.com!

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