Delayed reactions

Last month Catalog Tracker noted a nearly 8% decline in year-over-year catalog volume for October. Were merchants pushing back their holiday mailings in order to capture more business from procrastinators?

To a degree, yes. In November, Catalog Tracker (a service of Greenwich, CT-based list services firm Direct Media) received 543 consumer catalogs, an 8% increase from the 502 received in October. So whereas October had traditionally been the month with the greatest volume, for 2004 November took the top spot.

But compared with that of November 2003, November 2004’s catalog volume was all but flat: In November 2003, Catalog Tracker had received 542 books, only one fewer than this past November.

Just as the number of catalogs received was virtually flat, so was the percentage of books offering free shipping: 10% for November 2004 and 2003. The percentage of merchants touting deferred billing increased, however, to 6% from 5% the previous November.

Slightly less than 5% of the catalogs offered some sort of gift with purchase. Among them was women’s apparel cataloger/retailer Coldwater Creek, though its promise of a free watch with a purchase of at least $100 was good only for in-store purchases. Kitchenware and gifts title Gooseberry Patch limited its free gift with purchase as well, but to first-time buyers.

Two other catalogers also made a point of tailoring promotions to prospects. Costume jewelry purveyor Diamond Essence offered first-time customers a 30% discount plus free shipping. Charles Tyrwhitt, which specializes in custom-made shirts for men, went one better, giving first-timers 50% off.

And although it wasn’t even officially winter when its holiday catalog arrived in mailboxes, women’s shoe merchant Aerosoles couldn’t help looking further ahead: “New products for now and spring” trumpeted a cover line.