CO-OP DATABASES Small mailers dig into co-ops

The rise of the cooperative prospecting database has provided smaller mailers with access to many more names than were available to them even five years ago.

Leonor Lucero, marketing manager for Las Vegas-based Ethel M. Chocolates, has been able to access up to 10% more names when using The Abacus Alliance consumer co-op database than she’d be able to afford to rent. And Lucero estimates a 10% better response when using the co-op prospecting database than when renting other food lists. The $1 million-plus gifts cataloger has been using Abacus for three years.

The Abacus Alliance, formed five years ago, reportedly has more than 900 consumer catalogs supplying transactional data of more than 88 million households. Other co-op databases, such as Direct Media’s SmartBase and Direct Tech’s Z-24, also allow catalogers to share transactional data of customers with other catalogers. Mailers can use this data to build models using dollar purchase history and buyer frequency data to find similar customers who are likely to buy from them.

“For the smaller mailer or a start-up, it’s a way of accessing appropriate names that may or may not be available to them on list rental,” says catalog consultant John Lenser.

“It’s been a good program for us over the long run,” Ethel M.’s Lucero says of Abacus. “The ability to target food buyers at a low cost has allowed us to build our buyer file and grow it profitably in the long term.”

But are the smaller catalogs growing at the expense of the larger, more mature mailers?

“There are strengths and weaknesses for both parties in the equation. You could argue list rental may go down as a result, but it’s a two-way street,” Lenser says. “For the mature mailer, the major challenge is finding new and fresh names.”

Some catalogers do believe the larger mailers provide most of the co-op data while receiving less of the benefit. But Lori Paiken, director of catalog client services for Abacus Direct, disagrees, and says the larger the buyer file, the more information that participant can take out. “Each cataloger has access to about 12 times the size of its 18-month buyer file,” she says. For example, a catalog submitting 5,000 buyers could access 60,000 names.

Bill Nicolai, senior vice president of marketing for Portland, OR-based Good Catalog Co., is a proponent of cooperative databases, which account for a large percentage of the $22 million mailer’s prospecting efforts.

“It’s taken large mailers a long time to figure it out, but the cooperative database activates their already-large house files” by cross-promoting names and reactivating customers, Nicolai says.

Still, some larger catalogers have kept out of co-ops, not wanting to reveal house file data to competitors. Catharine Hartnett, spokeswoman for Freeport, ME-based catalog giant L.L. Bean, says that Bean doesn’t participate in co-op databases, primarily because of “privacy and control issues, such as not having control of how the information is used.” Also, she adds, “we probably would not realize as much of an advantage as that of a smaller catalog.”

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