Catalog Choice: We Aren’t Out to Kill Direct Mail

(Direct Newsline) The last thing Catalog Choice’s executives want to do is kill the mail-order industry, they said in a press briefing Wednesday.

Rather, the controversial group wants to help catalogers clean unresponsive names from their files and broker better relationships with customers who want to buy from them, but want to conduct the relationship electronically or simply want fewer catalogs, they said.

Launched last October, Catalog Choice is an online service that allows people to create a list of catalogs from which they want to receive no or less-frequent mail. The nonprofit then notifies the merchants of the opt-out request or makes a suppression file available that merchants can download from the site.

The service is seen by many in the business as another in a long line of attempts to kill direct mail that requires catalogers to engage in behavior that is not in their financial interest

April Smith, project manager for Catalog Choice, claims this is not so.

“We don’t expect the mailer to just accept the file and do a blanket suppression,” said Smith, “We’re asking them to take a step approach. There are hundreds of thousands of names in our cumulative database that are deceased or not at residence or duplicate mailings. That’s money in the bank for mailers.”

As for the names from Catalog Choice that are in the merchants’ house files, “We’re encouraging mailers to have a conversation with those consumers.”

Chuck Teller, Catalog Choice’s executive director, added: “The main imperative is for merchants to respect the choices their customers are making and have a dialog with them about what is they way those customer want to be engaged.”

Smith said the group has repeatedly heard the argument from catalogers that asking them to limit the channels through which they contact customers runs counter to the direct marketing tenet that multi-channel buyers purchase more and more frequently than single channel buyers.

Said Teller: “We understand the analytics historically, but it’s a new world now and this is an opportunity for a one-to-one marketing program where you can reach out directly to these customers and at the same time eliminate customers that have no interest in your catalog.”

Not surprisingly, the reaction to Catalog Choice from much of the consumer press and many consumers themselves has been mostly positive. The group claims it is approaching 1 million consumers who have signed up for its service.

Also not surprisingly, the response from the Direct Marketing Association hasn’t been positive. The DMA in November issued a statement to members urging them not to participate. The DMA also responded to Catalog Choice by changing its mail preference service so people could opt out of specific titles similarly to Catalog Choice’s service.

“The DMA will not be distracted from its efforts to be viewed as the leader in consumer choice for managing mail. We don’t encourage anyone to get in between the cataloger and the customer,” said the DMA in a statement yesterday. “We don’t think it’s good for the consumer or the merchant.”

Meanwhile, when asked what Catalog Choice offers now that the DMA doesn’t, Teller said: “An excellent user experience, plus we’re independent so people trust us and trust our objectives.”

He said the site also allows people to search through participating titles and download electronic versions of their catalogs.

“There are enhanced service for both consumers and merchants that none of the other services offer,” he said. “And our service extends beyond the DMA membership.”

Catalog Choice’s executives claim that 236 catalogers have signed on to its service and just 39 merchants—some of whom are reconsidering—have said they will not participate.

The group gets operational support from the National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Resources Defense Council. It receives funding from the Overbrook Foundation, the Kandeda Fund, the Merck Family Fund and the Weeden Foundation.