opinion & response

Feb 01, 2002 10:30 PM  By

It’s the Savings, Stupid

Whoever took the potshot at the Sierra Trading Post catalog in the January Backword (“Sell Me, Don’t Save Me”) was clever but uninformed. The passage from John has been on the cataloger’s order blanks for years and is not an effort to capitalize on 9/11.

Furthermore, the financial (rather than spiritual) savings on Sierra’s clothing and gear is enormous, the merchandise from the finest manufacturers, the service friendly and trustworthy. I admit to having been put off by the passage once, but now this nice Jewish boy rarely buys outdoor gear or clothing elsewhere. You can keep REI, Bean, Patagonia, and the rest; give me John 10:10b and $200 Ecco boots at $85 any time.
Bernie Libster
freelance copywriter

That’s News to Us

We’re used to people making fun of the catalog industry on TV (remember the Peterman portrayal in Seinfeld?), so we tried to be good sports about a segment on the Comedy Channel’s satirical news program The Daily Show, hosted by Jon Stewart. The Dec. 6 show featured “Back in Black,” a rant by commentator Lewis Black that focused on the absurdity of some catalog products. Black poked fun at a minibicycle from Hammacher Schlemmer and the ‘N Sync bedding from Brylane Home, among other products and catalogers. Black finished off the bit with this parting shot: “This year we’ve been encouraged to show our patriotism by spending money on things. Well, I can tell you that if you’re buying anything from one of these catalogs, you’re being way more patriotic than is necessary.” Hey, thanks for the ringing endorsement, Lew.

Seen on That Crime Scene Show

Catalogs also made the TV scene on the CBS series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. In an episode titled “You’ve Got Male,” which aired Dec. 20, a young woman who loves to shop by catalog strikes up an online relationship with a prisoner who has a job taking catalog phone orders. When the convict is released from prison, he goes to visit his Internet pen pal. We won’t give everything away, but the woman winds up dead. But what you probably really want to know is, what catalogs did the victim shop from, and did the books appear on TV? Lillian Vernon, Pottery Barn, Harry and David, and Yafa Pen were the stars, to name just a few. What we’d like to know: How many of you catalogers employ prisoners as phone reps?

FAO Schwarz Plays Fair

The doting aunt of a Catalog Age offspring ordered a play kitchen set from the FAO Schwarz catalog as a holiday gift for her niece. The customer was told it would arrive within 7-10 days. Ten days go by, no gift, so she calls the company. It turns out that the item was backordered — although when the customer placed the order over the phone, the order rep had said it was available. Moreover, before placing the order the customer had checked the Website, which had also indicated that the item was in stock. The FAO Schwarz customer service rep said the cataloger wouldn’t be sending the gift out until the next Monday, which meant it wouldn’t arrive until after the holiday. Unacceptable, declared the doting aunt, who added that the least the company could do was waive the shipping charges. FAO Schwarz did waive the S&H — and even sent the item out two-day delivery so that the kitchenette arrived in time for the holiday.

Pepperberry Product Proves to Be Hot Pick

In early December a Catalog Age staffer was desperate to get her hands on the glass pepperberry garland in the Pottery Barn catalog. Apparently, so were a lot of other people. A call to the San Francisco-based marketer found that both the catalog and the Website were sold out of the item in all colors — with no more deliveries expected. The staffer braved the holiday shopping crowds to visit her local Pottery Barn store, which was also out of the garland. Calls to five other regional Pottery Barn retail locations were fruitless: “We can’t keep them on the shelves,” remarked a Boston store clerk. Finally, the Albany, NY, store came through. Not only had the store just received a fresh shipment of the garland in the desired color, but it had put the item on sale! The clerk who answered the phone cheerfully did a mail order, and 15 feet of the coveted rope arrived at the staffer’s home in Connecticut two days later in plenty of time to deck the halls. Kudos to the Pottery Barn merchant who picked the pepperberries — you evidently have an eye for winners!

The Seedy Side of Poppy Plants

Are some gardening catalogers aiding and abetting opium fiends? The feds might think so. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) says it’s illegal to grow or possess any part of the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) except the seeds, since the seed heads contain the sap used in heroin. Opium poppy seeds are available in food stores and through gardening catalogs, though the DEA asked seed companies to voluntarily stop selling opium poppies a few years ago. U.K.-based seed mailer Thompson & Morgan, for one, stopped selling the opium poppies in the U.S. in summer 2000 after a customs agent questioned a shipment coming into the cataloger’s New Jersey office. But for the marketers that continue to sell the seeds (and no, we won’t narc on them here), we say bravo. Besides, budding drug lords could always scrape the poppy seeds off their bagels if they really want to start an opium crop.

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