Catalog Tracker: Sharp Drop in January Mail

Last year January set the tone for overall year-over-year catalog volume. Catalog Tracker, a service of Greenwich, CT-based marketing services firm Direct Media, had received 390 consumer catalogs in January 2006, down 2.5% from the previous January. And by the end of 2006, Catalog Tracker had received 4,585 catalogs, down 2.7% from the 4,712 received for all of 2005.

If January 2007 is also a harbinger of volume trends for the year, there will be a lot more room in mailboxes this year. Catalog Tracker received just 317 consumer books this January, down 18.7% from January 2006. Given that the new postal rates, which will lead to double-digit increases for most catalogers, are scheduled to go into effect next month, you don’t have to be Nostradamus to predict a sizable decline in mailings for 2007 as a whole. But it is somewhat surprising to see the drop in year-over-year volume beginning so soon.

What didn’t drop is the percentage of mailers offering free shipping — 14% of the January 2007 books touted it, compared with 13% the previous January. Catalogers were less promotional in other ways, however. Only 6% offered deferred billing, down from 7% in January 2006. And only 4% promised a gift with purchase, compared with 7% the previous January.

What’s more, though there were fewer catalogs, in many product categories page counts crept upward. For instance, the number of apparel catalogs received fell 8%, to 112. But the average page count for the apparel books rose from 70 pages to 72. Likewise, the number of home decor and housewares catalogs dropped 13%, to 67, but the average page count rose by four pages, to 77.

A handful of the January catalogs cited their Valentine’s Day order deadlines on their covers. Kitchenware cataloger/retailer Williams-Sonoma, for one, guaranteed Valentine’s delivery for orders placed by Feb. 9; jeweler Ross-Simons set its deadline as Feb. 10. Viva Terra, which sells eco-friendly home decor, was doing its best to court procrastinators: It guaranteed delivery for items ordered as late as Feb. 13.

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