Missing catalogs has coffee mailer steaming

May 01, 2005 9:30 PM  By

A Stoughton, WI-based coffee mailer is wondering about the whereabouts of some 4,500 catalogs. Andrew Billman, cofounder of coffee gifts merchant The Caffeination, claims that the U.S. Postal Service failed to deliver the books.

On March 15, Quebecor trucked 11 mailbags of Caffeination catalogs from Brookfield, WI, to the USPS’s bulk mail center in Oak Creek, WI. Assuming a 10-day lead time, the delivery window for the eight-page books — Caffeination’s first — should have been March 26 through March 29. What happened next is a mystery to Billman.

Of the 4,998 catalogs to be mailed, Billman says, only an estimated 240-738 catalogs were delivered. He had called 85 businesses from its mailing list to ask whether they had received the catalog; 80 had not. As of mid-April, the rest remained unaccounted for. So far, the cataloger received exactly one order, making for an anemic 0.002% response. “Even a poor response should have yielded at least 0.5%,” Billman says.

Just as troublesome as the lack of orders is the one returned catalog from the Postal Service. According to Caffeination’s list services provider, InfoUSA, a standard deliverability rate is 92%-95%. Typically, then, 5%-8% of a mailing would be returned as undeliverable. In the case of Caffeination, that would have been about 250-400 returned catalogs. What’s more, “we’ve received only two ‘please remove me’ requests,” Billman says. A 1,500-piece mailing less than a year ago to the identical target market of professional offices with fewer than 20 employees yielded about 20 such requests.

As of mid-April, postal officials were still investigating the case, says USPS spokesperson Joanne Veto. “Here’s what we know: The catalogs were taken to the Brookfield post office on March 15, and there is a verification receipt for all 4,998 pieces. On that same day, all 4,998 pieces went to the processing and distribution center in Milwaukee. There’s a verification receipt for that as well.”

Postage and printing costs for the Caffeination catalogs was roughly $3,500. Billman estimates that when the lost business is factored in, the cataloger lost $10,000 on the mailing. Making matters worse, Caffeination was slated to send a larger drop — 25,000 catalogs — in mid-April without having results from the March mailing to use as a benchmark.

Recourse? Not much

This isn’t the first time that catalogs have gone missing, though no statistics are available regarding how often significant portions of a mailing are mislaid.

To make a case against the USPS, the mailer needs some sort of verification, says David Hauser, CEO of Hicksville, NY-based mail tracking firm Hauser Group. Using an outside service to deliver your mailing can help, as can seeding your mailing with geographically dispersed respondents across the U.S. who are on the list exclusively to report receipt of the mailing. You can also contact your top customers nationwide to see if they’ve received your catalog, Hauser says. If you’re a new mailer, in the case of Caffeination, he suggests contacting your list broker for permission to contact names on the list to conduct an informal survey.

Other than that, there’s not much a cataloger can do. “In 14 years, I’ve never seen a case where a cataloger was reimbursed” by the USPS, Hauser says. But one thing that may happen as a result, he adds, is that you’ll receive better service on future mailings.