Live from the ACC: Good News–Sales Weren’t That Bad

Chicago–How much do you think consumer catalog sales declined last year? Five percent? Seven percent? More?

According to the Spring 2002 Catalog Industry Trend Report from Abacus, the answer is 1%. And if you add online and print catalog transactions together, sales actually increased 2% over the previous year, to $15.71 billion.

The marketing services and cooperative database provider is releasing the report Tuesday morning at the Annual Catalog Conference. The research is based on consumer transaction data from members of the Abacus Catalog Alliance co-op.

According to the data, more than 41.5 million U.S. households spent $14.44 billion on catalog transactions in 2001. Households averaged 3.4 transactions, with an average order size of $102.

In comparison, nearly 7.1 million households spent $1.27 billion in online purchases in 2001. At $101, the average order size was virtually the same as the average catalog order size. But households averaged only 1.8 online transactions for the year. Online spending increased 47%, from $862 million in 2000.

In terms of merchandise, so-called low-ticket female apparel–what Abacus defines as clothing “for a more mature or credit-driven market”–was by far the largest product category. Nearly 18% of households that made a catalog purchase from an Abacus Alliance member last year bought low-ticket female apparel.

The second most popular product category was discount domestic merchandise, purchased by 12% of the catalog-shopping households. Slightly fewer than 10% of households bought general gifts and merchandise, such as small home decor items, jewelry, toys, and seasonal decorations, via catalog.

The data support the conventional wisdom that online consumers tend to be younger and more affluent than catalog buyers. For instance, whereas 16.6% of catalog consumers had an annual household income of at least $125,000, among online shoppers that figure was 22.8%. Conversely, while 5.4% of online consumers had household income of less than $20,000, 10.6% of catalog shoppers did.

Likewise, whereas consumers 35 years of age or younger accounted for 13.5% of catalog shoppers, they made up 26.3% of the online consumers. As for shoppers over the age of 65, they accounted for 4.5% of online buyers compared with 19.8% of catalog customers.

As for the gender gap of a few years back, in which women made up the majority of catalog shoppers but men made most of the online purchases: forget about it. Women accounted for 83.1% of catalog purchases–and 75.6% of online purchases too.

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