Fewer February books received

Consumer spending was down in February, and so was the number of catalogs in the mail. Catalog Tracker, a service of Greenwich, CT-based list firm Direct Media, received 325 catalogs in February, down 4% from the 339 delivered to its mailbox in the same month of 2007.

But the lack of new start-ups and more-focused mailings by veteran merchants may also have played into the number of titles received by Catalog Tracker. New catalogs to its database declined from 20 in February 2007 to only seven in February 2008.

Catalogers were trying to entice merchants to buy in February, too. Free shipping promotions increased from 12% in February 2007 to 14% in February 2008. Deferred billing promotions were flat at 6%.

Some merchants did offer a deeply discounted shipping rate in an attempt to get orders. Apparel and accessories title Blair Corp. charged just 99 cents for shipping. Golfsmith charged $5.99 as a flat shipping rate, which isn’t bad when you consider how much it may cost to ship a set of clubs. And food title Mackenzie Ltd. offered a flat shipping rate of $9.95.

February was also a big month to promote sweepstakes on catalog covers. In a spring book that arrived in homes after Valentine’s Day, general merchant Walter Drake dangled a $5,000 diamond plus $25,000 cash. One of Talbot’s titles pitched a chance to win a $10,000 vacation. Food title Home Bistro offered a chance to win a kitchen makeover, while a sweepstakes by home decor title Frontgate gave the winner an outdoor makeover.

The clearance books that started arriving in January kept coming. Men’s apparel and accessories book King Size ran a 70% off sale, and gift book Metropolitan Museum of Art offered up to 50% off its items. Apparel and accessories title Timepieces International also offered up to 75% off.

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