Holiday sales: a preliminary roundup

As consumers begin taking down the Christmas trees and eat the remains of their holiday leftovers, consumer catalogers are determining just how naughty or nice their holiday selling season was.

Venerable L.L. Bean, for one, enjoyed a late-year surge in business–a good thing, given that fall sales had been disappointing for the apparel and outdoor gear cataloger. “December sales made up for the earlier shortfall,” says spokesperson Rich Donaldson. Sales were “double digits” above those for December 2001, enabling the Freeport, ME-based mailer to meet its fourth-quarter plan.

Bean’s offer of free shipping no doubt helped boost sales. And the company’s e-commerce sales were so strong that “on some days we serviced twice the transaction volume as the same days last year,” Donaldson says.

Omaha Steaks also met its holiday plan, which called for low-single-digit growth from last year. “Our orders were bunched up over the last 10-15 days of the season, much more so than in the past,” says Todd Simon, senior vice president for the Omaha, NE-based food mailer. “In fact, if you asked me on Dec. 12 how sales were, I’d be shaking my head. But by Dec. 20, everything was fine.”

Manchester Center, VT-based Vermont Country Store met, and may have even exceeded, plan this holiday season. “We had a lot of Internet growth, and I think that was key to the overall growth in the fourth quarter,” says Bob Allen, president of the general merchandise cataloger. “It is not simply channel shift; it’s many new acquisitions. We are getting those from affiliates and search engines.”

At Levenger, a Delray Beach, FL-based cataloger of reading- and writing-related accessories, “we are above last year approximately 4%-5% and just a few percentage points behind plan,” says marketing director Tracy Lamb. “Our plan was a slight sales increase based on a slight bump in circulation. We are pretty pleased with that considering the economy and the threat of war and other distractions that so many people are facing.”

Also falling a few percentage points short of plan is Cranston, RI-based Ross-Simons, a cataloger/retailer of jewelry and tabletop items. Earlier in the year the company had revised its original projections downward. It also cut fourth-quarter circulation 10%, eliminating one catalog edition altogether, reducing prospecting, and mailing to fewer inactive customers, says vice president of marketing Cindy Marshall.

The circulation cuts accounted for half of Ross-Simons’s decrease in demand, says Marshall. “We expected to maintain our response levels but didn’t get that,” she adds. “Customers responded mainly to our promotions more than ever before. Our problem was, we didn’t have as many out there. We had more than we did last year, but given the economic climate, customers are looking for the best bargains.”

(A more extensive holiday sales roundup will appear in the February issue of CATALOG AGE.)

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