opinion & response

Jan 01, 2002 10:30 PM  By

Take a Stab at This Use of Catalogs

You never know what will come up when you type “mail order catalogs” into an Internet search engine. A recent search brought up on an article on Angola, a maximum-security prison in Louisiana that dates back to 1880. The article notes that some of the penitentiary’s history is detailed in a 1975 book, Angola — A Half Century of Rage and Reform, that’s available in the Angola museum bookstore. The book describes “a brutal world of violence and intrigue, political abuse and racial turmoil where a staggering one in 10 inmates would suffer stab wounds annually and others slept with thick mail order catalogs taped to the chest to deflect knives in the night.” Scary and gruesome, to be sure, but no more offensive that using catalog pages for toilet paper in the outhouse.

A Bargain at an Exorbitant Price

If you’re in the market for a diamond-encrusted bra from Victoria’s Secret — and who isn’t? — you’ll have to pay more for it this year. The 2001 diamond-and-pink-sapphire Heavenly Star bra costs $12.5 million, or $2.5 million more than last year’s ruby-and-diamond Millennium bra. But if you want to justify such conspicuous consumption, you can reason that buying the Heavenly bra and panty set will run you a mere $13.25 million, a bargain over the Millennium bra, panty, and belt set, which sold for $15 million. Of course, you won’t be getting the diamond string belt with this year’s set, but trust us, no one will miss it. Besides, there’s a recession going on, and we all need to make sacrifices.

The Dolly Doctor Is In

For Christmas 2000, a Catalog Age staffer bought the Kit Kittredge American Girl doll from the Pleasant Co. catalog as a gift for her eight-year-old sister. Since the little sister took meticulous care of her doll, her entire family was horrified this past September when Kit’s arm fell out of its socket. The Catalog Age staffer called Pleasant Co. to arrange for Kit to visit the American Girl Doll Hospital for repair. The customer service rep told the staffer that the typical length of a doll’s hospital stay is about two weeks, and that if the “injury” was the result of a defect rather than normal wear and tear, there would be no charge for the repair. The rep advised the customer to send a check for $20 to cover the repair and said that if the injury was the result of a defect, she would be reimbursed.

The customer sent Pleasant Co. a check only for the cost of shipping and handling, along with a letter explaining how the injury was clearly the result of a defect. She mailed the doll out via USPS Priority Mail on a Friday; 13 days later the staffer’s sister received a fully recuperated Kit, complete with a hospital ID bracelet, hospital gown, and balloon — just as promised in the catalog. The same day, the customer received an invoice for the repair. There was no charge.

Scents and Sensibility

At the height of the anthrax-tainted mail scare this past fall, a friend of Catalog Age received a Crate & Barrel catalog in the mail that she said had a “fermenty” smell. The customer called the gifts, furnishings, and tabletop items marketer’s 800-number to alert the company to this situation; a customer service representative promised to pass her inquiry on. Ten minutes later, the customer received a call from Nancy Kushman in the company’s catalog department. Kushman explained that the catalog’s odd scent was due to the printing process (something about a rotogravure pressing — we didn’t entirely grasp the specifics) and assured her that it posed no health risks. At a time when consumers are superskittish, Crate & Barrel’s fast response impressed the customer — and best of all, really made her want to shop with Crate & Barrel.

Sell Me, Don’t Save Me

Without question, the tragic events of recent months have boosted interest in spirituality for many people. Still, that doesn’t mean consumers want religion pushed on them. The order blank of the Winter 2001 edition of Cheyenne, WY-based outdoor gear and apparel cataloger Sierra Trading boasts a biblical passage from John 10:10b: “Jesus said, ‘I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.’” While many consumers no doubt consider it a lovely sentiment, particularly during the holiday season, the quote could be off-putting to the 16% of Americans (not to mention to the 67% of the world’s population) who aren’t Christian.

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