Catalog Tracker: Free S&H Holding Steady

Far fewer consumer catalogs mailed this June than a year ago, according to Catalog Tracker. But for the first time this year, the percentage of catalogers offering free shipping held steady.

A service of Greenwich, CT-based list firm Direct Media, Catalog Tracker logged in 277 consumer catalogs during June 2003. That’s 21% fewer than the 353 books received in June 2002. June is the third month in a row to have seen year-over-year declines in volume. In May, nearly 10% fewer catalogs were received than the previous May; in April, 8% fewer than the previous April.

The percentage of apparel and accessories catalogs received fell more than 19%. What’s more, the average page count of the apparel books dropped by nearly a third, to 45 pages from 67 a year ago. Nonetheless, the apparel category still accounted for the plurality of books received: 36%.

The number of gifts and collectibles catalogs tumbled 44%, from 25 in June 2002 to just 14 received this past June. Far fewer home decor and housewares books were received as well — 60, down 31% from 87 the previous June.

Of the catalogs received, 8% offered free S&H, the same percentage as those received in June 2002. In comparison, 11% of the May 2003 catalogs had offered free S&H vs. 6% of the May 2002 books. And 7.9% of the catalogs received during the first quarter of 2003 promoted free S&H, compared with 3.7% in the first quarter of 2002.

In lieu of free S&H, several mailers offered more distinctive promotions. Women’s apparel catalog California Style offered a free necklace; men’s apparel title Paul Fredrick had a “buy three, get one free” dress shirt promotion. Upscale decor catalog Horchow offered a chance to win a $5,000 shopping spree, while religious-themed gifts mailer Abbey Press promoted the classic “free mystery gift” on its cover. Computer marketer Dell offered a free CD/DVD burner or CD burner upgrade. And in what wins our vote for oddest promotion, Sunglass Hut offered free movie tickets — never mind that movie theaters are one of the places where sunglasses are superfluous.

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