Not much March madness

This was a boffo first quarter in terms of consumer catalog volume, according to Catalog Tracker. The service of Greenwich, CT-based list services firm Direct Media logged in 1,158 consumer books during the first three months of 2006. That’s an increase of less than 2% from the 1,140 consumer catalogs received during the first quarter of last year — but a 5% rise from the first quarter of 2004.

For March, though, year-over-year volume declined more than 6%, to 392 catalogs from 418 last year. In fact, only 33.9% of the catalogs received this past first quarter arrived in March. In comparison, March catalogs accounted for 36.7% of first-quarter volume last year and 38.3% in 2004. If the trend continues, next year mailboxes will be more crowded with catalogs in January than in March.

Volume wasn’t the only thing that declined in March. So did the percentage of catalogs offering some sort of free shipping and handling. Eleven percent of the books received in March 2006 had a free S&H promotion, down from 12% the previous March. The percentage of deferred billing offers declined too, to 7% from 9%.

Among other promotions, Blair Corp. sought to drive Web traffic by offering in its women’s apparel catalog a discount on orders placed online. On its back cover, furniture cataloger/retailer Bombay (aka Bombay Co.) touted a contest to win a $5,000 shopping spree. And Gaiam Real Goods, which sells products for an eco-conscious lifestyle, offered a free book with each order.

This month’s Early Bird Award goes to plus-size women’s apparel mailer Junonia. A cover line on the catalog received the week of March 1 read: “Pre-Season Swim Sale.” As much as we look forward to the end of winter, that’s as much as we dread shopping for swimsuits.

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