Bloomingdale’s to bag By Mail books

Jun 01, 2008 9:30 PM  By

Say goodbye to the Bloomingdale’s By Mail catalog. The apparel cataloger/retailer merchant plans to phase out the title by early 2009. It will instead shift its direct-to-consumer focus to growing its Bloomingdales.com Website.

The company also aims to expand its existing Bloomingdale’s catalog, which is produced by its department store division and used to drive traffic to stores.

So what’s the difference between the two books? Bloomingdale’s By Mail includes merchandise not found in the department stores. It was initially geared toward status-seeking buyers who wanted the opportunity to buy via catalog, says spokesman David Ender.

And with Bloomingdale’s expanding its retail footprint to 40 stores from coast to coast, Ender says the Bloomingdale’s By Mail brand became obsolete.

“The department store’s catalogs feature merchandise that can be found in our stores,” Ender says. “The catalogs we are eliminating had merchandise that was less congruent with store content.” The main purpose of these titles “was to get people to pick up the phone and order,” he says.

Also, the circulation of the Bloomingdale’s catalog is about twice the size of Bloomingdale’s By Mail, which has 472,603 12-month mail order buyers, according to its data card. The average purchase for Bloomingdale’s By Mail is $190.

Ender said 125 people work in the direct-to-consumer group, but only 17 are directly affected by the discontinuation of Bloomingdale’s By Mail. Those associates will be offered the opportunity to interview for other positions within the company.

The company, a division of Macy’s, said in a statement that the restructuring will occur incrementally over the next eight months, and will create a more efficient and focused organization to capitalize on the opportunities within the online business. Macy’s expects to do $1 billion in online sales this fiscal year.

Bravo, or bad move?

Bloomingdale’s may be making a big mistake, according to Glenda Shasho Jones, president of catalog consultancy Shasho Jones Direct. That’s because the Bloomingdale’s catalog, in her eyes, is more like an advertising piece designed to drive consumers to store locations.

Shasho Jones fears the death of Bloomingdale’s By Mail will also be the demise of its direct-to-consumer business. “I think that this is a reflection of a retail-focused company, run by retailers with retail-store roots, reacting to hardships that the catalog portion of its business faces,” she says.

While there may be a lot of good reasons to re-evaluate the strategies of Bloomingdale’s By Mail, “to completely close down a business like this and depend on pure-play Web activity is a little short-sighted,” she says.

Bill Kaplan, CEO of e-mail service provider FreshAddress, says the shift of its direct-to-consumer business to the Bloomingdale’s Website is a sign of things to come in the industry. “With the financial writing on the wall, coupled with the additional benefits of e-mail communications, it would not be surprising to see more retailers follow in Bloomingdale’s path,” he says.