Mixed Signs on Catalog Delivery

This season, catalog delivery timeliness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Most catalogers and industry watchdogs say that despite anthrax-related incidents in post offices in several states, which have caused local delays, the delivery of national fall/holiday catalogs has been mostly on time.

Pockets of late delivery do exist, says Donald Libey, president of Philadelphia-based catalog investment firm Libey-Concordia. For instance, sectional center facilities in both Trenton, NJ, and Washington were closed temporarily in October after anthrax was found at nearby post offices. The USPS was rerouting mail from both locations. But Kathi Galik, spokesperson for Willowbrook, IL-based R.R. Donnelley Logistics, the catalog and parcel delivery arm of printer R.R. Donnelley, was warning mailers at press time that they could expect delays of up to three days in those areas. Nonetheless, Libey says, “Overall there is no looming disaster. I’ve had no reports of significant delays.”

But according to catalog operations consultant Curt Barry, president of Richmond, VA-based F. Curtis Barry & Co., in mid-October, 75% of catalogs were arriving within two weeks of the scheduled in-home date; in late September and early October, 60%-70% of catalogs were arriving within the two-week scheduled window. All of those percentages are below the 90% on-time delivery that Barry says catalogers should expect during the fall mailing season. “Delivery is showing a very slight improvement, although it’s still slower than usual,” he says.

David Hauser, executive vice president of Hicksville, NY-based list firm and mail tracking service The Hauser Group, says that catalog delivery was “up and down during Labor Day week and the week of the Sept. 11 tragedy, and it ran 7-10 days behind all the way through the week of Sept. 25.” There was some improvement before the anthrax scares, which led to delays of 8-12 days since Oct. 10. But the USPS “does tend to catch up two to three weeks after each occurrence and perform back to its average again,” Hauser says.

Among catalogers contacted, Macy’s Direct reports that a fall catalog that mailed Oct. 16 arrived in the homes of its decoy mailings, or seeds, “a couple of days late,” says vice president of direct marketing Gary Ostrager. But that delay may be “circumstantial,” he adds; the book size was smaller, and the quantity dropped wasn’t as large as Macy’s has mailed in the past. As a result, the smaller bundles with less presorting may have passed through the postal system more slowly, causing the delays.

School recreational equipment marketer J.L. Hammett usually sees its mailings delivered to homes within five days. But the Braintree, MA-based cataloger mailed more than 350,000 four-page fliers on Oct. 12, and as of Oct. 19, not one had been delivered, says director of marketing Dave Merigold. “When we called the USPS, they told us it was because of the anthrax problem. There was really nothing we could do, because in the postal fine print of bulk mail, it says the USPS has up to three weeks to deliver it.”

An Oct. 1 drop of The Lighthouse’s fall catalog — its second drop of the book — seemed to be a week late, says Roberta Nasta, vice president for the consumer products division of the New York-based nonprofit organization for the vision impaired. “Our order curve is a week late. We believe we’ll make it through the season on plan, but because of the delays, we’re now 7%-10% off.”

But for every mailer contacted by Catalog Age that reported late delivery, two were pleasantly surprised by the timely arrivals of their books, including Norm Thompson, Movies Unlimited, and J.C. Penney. “We’ve gotten reports of planned sales by catalog by day, and I don’t see anything that would lead me to believe that our books are arriving late,” says Joe Cassidy, vice president of marketing for Manchester, VT-based apparel and cataloger/retailer The Orvis Co.

J.R. Weber, marketing/creative director for Chardon, OH-based hobby tools mailer Eagle America, characterizes catalog delivery as “superb. We print in Minnesota, so being in the central part of the country helps. We had a drop the other day and already began getting orders later in the week.”

At least one mailer, in fact, is reporting early delivery. “We were expecting things to be a little slower,” says Skip Hartzell, executive vice president/chief creative and Internet officer for Boca Raton, FL-based multititle cataloger The Mark Group. “But it’s been just the opposite: We’ve had extremely fast in-home delivery, and we have been significantly ahead of our planned in-home dates.”

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