Live From NEMOA: Choice Words for Catalog Choice et al

Cambridge, MA–What began as a session on how home decor merchant Williams-Sonoma uses customer data to form its contact strategies turned into a debate about the pros and cons of catalog opt-out services.

Moderator Peter Grebus, who leads Williams-Sonoma’s customer information group, said that organizations such as Green Dimes and Catalog Choice, which offer services for consumers to opt out of receiving catalogs in the mail, have made life difficult for mailers.

“The goal of all direct marketers is to mail only to someone who wants to buy,” Grebus said during the March 13 session. “But the advent of companies like Green Dimes and Catalog Choice have changed this conversation in an unfavorable way.”

For example, Grebus said his company analyzed a Green Dimes file that contained all of the Williams-Sonoma family’s opt-outs to determine the impact. And in the case of its Pottery Barn catalog, 77% of those who opted out had purchased from the brand at some time.

What’s more, those consumers spent upwards of $18 million, and 53% of them had made purchases in the past 24 months, totaling $4.6 million.

Grebus suggested that consumers may not understand what they’re getting into when they opt out through these services. He noted that maybe people who were allegedly opting out of receiving catalogs really didn’t mean to opt out at all–they may have not even known about these watchdog sites.

NEMOA attendee Liz Pearce of home decor title Liz Pearce agreed, especially considering her experience with Catalog Choice. “I’m actually getting catalog requestors through Catalog Choice,” Pearce said. “They’re on a site to opt out of catalogs, and instead they are requesting them.”

But Catalog Choice representative April Smith said her group has systems in place to assure an opt out is legit. “We have a very robust system in place to address fraud, and we’re also willing to work with any merchant who has any concern about the data,” Smith said. “We can send secondary information to make sure that people on your file truly requested to be removed.”

Smith added that the organization follows up with the customers who choose to opt out to find out their reason for doing so.

But Pearce said she hasn’t seen any evidence that Catalog Choice is checking out who is coming in to opt out. “I kind of like to mess with the system, so I made up five different people with five different e-mail addresses, and was not caught any time,” Pearce said.

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