Still waiting for mail

Remember how a few months ago the industry cheered a return to increased circulation? We might have celebrated a bit too soon. This past October, Catalog Tracker — a service of Greenwich, CT-based list services firm Direct Media — received 502 consumer catalogs. Sure, that sounds like a lot, but it was nearly 8% fewer books than the 545 received in October 2003. It follows a less-than-1% dip in year-over-year volume for September.

Given that October is traditionally the month with the greatest catalog volume, you can draw several conclusions from the decline. Perhaps catalogers were delaying holiday mailings until November, in keeping with the trend among consumers of finishing their shopping later in the season. We should know whether this is indeed the case next month. Or maybe catalogers moved more of their marketing efforts to noncatalog media, such as e-mails, postcards, or search engine optimization. Or in the worst-case scenario, marketers grew nervous and pulled back their marketing efforts across multiple channels.

Those catalogers that did mail books in October didn’t scale back when it came to free shipping and handling: 12% offered free S&H, up from 11% in October 2003. Then again, only 6% offered deferred billing, compared with 8% the previous October.

Among other promotions, gifts mailer Art Institute of Chicago gave customers who ordered online a 10% discount, while fellow gifts marketer Personal Creations took $5 off online orders. Both home decor title Company Store and its Company Kids spin-off offered free monogramming. Apparel and outdoor gear cataloger L.L. Bean touted free gift boxing. And 33 catalogs, or nearly 7%, promised a free gift with purchase. No doubt they were targeting those who believe it’s just as good to receive as it is to give.

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