Holiday Season: So Far, So Good, Say Mailers

The kickoff to the holiday shopping season started with a bang, at least according to the marketers contacted by CATALOG AGE.

Post-Thanksgiving sales at Frederick’s of Hollywood are running 20% ahead of last year’s, says Danielle Savin, vice president/general manager of the cataloger/retailer’s direct division. “But we were very aggressive coming into the period,” having increased the page count of its holiday catalog 24%.

The women’s apparel marketer also introduced a new fragrance, F, and “it’s doing very well,” Savin says. Other new initiatives include offering monogramming.

Sales of quilted wreaths, patchwork stockings, and other holiday items contributed to a 25% rise in sales at Hinesburg, VT-based Hearthside Quilts, says president George Wachob. He also credits the inclusion of more lower-priced items into the merchandising mix for the uptick. The revised merch strategy followed a 10% decline in spring sales. Wachob says that the slow economy has caused his customers to opt for patterns and supplies for full- and queen-size quilts, rather than the more pricy king-size variety. What’s more, “these lower-priced items offer a higher margin of profitability,” he emphasizes.

The holiday season is off to a strong start at Freeport, ME-based L.L. Bean, says spokesperson Rich Donaldson. “The Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving were roughly on par with last year, but the first three days of December have been well beyond expectations,” he says. “December ’02 was a record holiday season for us and will be a tough one to beat. But with roughly 10% more people on staff for peak [times], additional network capacity, and better inventory, we’re in a good position to give it a go.”

Sundance, Robert Redford’s Salt Lake City-based gift and apparel catalog, “had a good weekend” following Thanksgiving, according to director of marketing and circulation David Brown. Sales so far are meeting projections, which call for a 5%-10% sales increase in overall holiday sales compared with 2002. The company benefited from an October redesign of its Website, which Brown says improved navigation, appearance, and functionality. Web sales now account for 37% of overall sales at Sundance, up from 29% last year.

Post-Thanksgiving sales were up 3% from last year at Irish Shop of New Orleans, says owner Barbara Rusina, with the average order size up 10%. Popular products this year include the company’s line of geneology books. Other early strong sellers include its Irish and Scottish heraldic shields, which Rusina says are perennial favorites. The 15-year-old company, which mails a 32-page catalog at least once a month to around 2,000 customers and prospects, does not consider Christmas its busiest time of the year, however; that would be prior to St. Patrick’s Day. “We never bank on Christmas sales here,” Rusina says, “but we’re trying to play it up more.”

Overall, credit-card provider Visa reports that retail spending grew 9% during the post-Thanksgiving weekend, to more than $3.4 billion. Visa cardholder e-commerce transactions increased 46%, to $338 million.

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