Spring doldrums

The sluggishness of spring fever seems to have infected the catalog industry. For the second month in a row, Catalog Tracker received fewer consumer books than it had for the same month last year. In April 2006, the service of Greenwich, CT-based list and marketing services provider Direct Media logged in 352 catalogs, down 14% from the 410 received in April 2005. That’s a much steeper drop than the 6% year-over-year decline seen in March. So far this year, only February had an increase in year-over-year volume.

Thirteen percent of the catalogs received this April offered some sort of free shipping and handling promotion, down slightly from 14% the previous April. The percentage offering deferred billing was 8% — the same as the previous April but one percentage point higher than throughout the first quarter of this year. Fourteen percent of the books received boasted of some sort of discount on the cover.

A sense of blah was apparent in the overall lack of imagination regarding other promotions. Among the few standouts, Lands’ End Home offered furniture shipping for just $14.95; given that shipping surcharges for beds and dining sets can hit $175, that’s quite a valuable deal. To help build its e-mail list, the women’s apparel edition of high-end merchant Neiman Marcus by Mail offered the chance to win a $2,500 shopping spree to those who registered on its Website. And Brookstone promised a one-year subscription to Popular Science magazine with every order of at least $100 — the assumption apparently being that people who might be wavering in their decision to spend $199 for the Wafer-Thin CD System with MP3 or $159 for the TruBreak Putting Green are the same sort of people eager to read articles entitled “Attack at the Speed of Light” and “Now You CO2, Now You Don’t” without having to spend $12 for an annual subscription.

Apparel cataloger/retailer The Talbots did at least exhibit a sense of fun in the titles of the three editions it sent to Catalog Tracker: “See What Springs Up,” “Sun Set,” and “Breeze into Summer.” They’re certainly better than the title of the Keepsake NeedleArts book, “Midsummer 2006,” received the week of April 23, which isn’t summer, let alone midsummer, in either hemisphere of the globe.

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