Better late than early? Timing is tricky when ordering holiday names This season, catalogers and list pros agree: Mailers want their lists later, and faster than ever. Catalogers want the freshest names possible for mailings timed to land in shoppers’ hands during the prime holiday shopping time: just before – if not just after – Thanksgiving.

“It used to be that catalogers could mail for fall/holiday in early August,” says Debbie Musikas, director of circulation of Boca Raton-FL based The Mark Group, which owns the Charles Keath, Boston Proper, and Mark, Fore, & Strike gifts and apparel catalogs. “Now we’re trying to mail as late as possible to get last-minute shoppers.” This year, she is placing her list orders for holiday mailings by the end of September.

Which brings us to another point: While you may be tempted to order names in mid-November for an early December mailing to appeal to last-minute shoppers, list professionals say that’s not such a great idea. “If you order the names at the beginning of November, the catalogs could be in homes by the first week of December, but after this you get into a time crunch with the post office,” says Linda West, account manager of Peterborough, NH-based list firm Millard Group.

And Jim Hall, vice president, brokerage of Oklahoma City, OK-based list firm Chilcutt Direct Marketing, contends that mailing too late could cost you orders: “The normal turnaround for names is one week. So let’s say you call for names on Nov. 1, and the labels go out Friday, Nov. 10, and the books mail Nov. 13. If you’re lucky, the catalog will be delivered before Thanksgiving, but it’s not probable because of the high volume of holiday mail. Then you’re getting into the first week of December, and by that time, consumers are concerned about getting the merchandise delivered after they place the order – and this could suppress response.”

What’s more, while ordering hot-line names in, say, mid-November could provide you with prospects in the throes of holiday shopping, you aren’t leaving yourself ample time for data cleansing, which has become more sophisticated – and time-consuming. Brian DeLaite, executive vice president of American List Counsel of New York, says that if you use a third party to provide balance models, you need to order names up to two months prior to your mail date.

Then, too, if you find that deduping causes you to come up short in terms of the number of names needed, you may need to turn to a co-op database such as Z-24 or Abacus to make up the balance. “This procedure usually adds one week to the process,” says Gina Valentino, customer development director of Downers Grove, IL-based general merchant Spiegel, “but the names are fresh.”

Timing is everything So how late can catalogers comfortably order holiday lists? Obviously, it depends in part on how late the mail date is, says Steve Bogner, president of Cresskill, NJ-based list firm NRL Direct, but for a late November mailing, catalogs will place list orders right on until late September and early October. Most catalogers work backward from their last possible gift delivery cutoff date, placing list orders Nov. 1 at the latest to allow for variables such as data cleaning, testing selects, versioning, and processing.

When it comes to remails, however, there are no hard and fast deadlines, says Spiegel’s Valentino. Many catalogers place orders as close to each remail as possible to capture the hottest hotline names. “There really isn’t anything too late” with remails, she says. “With any marketing, the more recent the list is – three months or even three weeks – the better.”

Spiegel customer development director Gina Valentino works backward when planning a typical holiday mailing (excluding remails), beginning with the last possible date Spiegel can accept holiday orders, to determine how late it can wait to order its lists:

– Dec. 20: Spiegel’s cutoff for orders to be placed before Christmas.

– Dec. 4-6: Catalogs land in home, giving shoppers two weeks to make their buying decisions.

– Nov. 24: Post office receives catalogs for mailings. (Mailings usually take anywhere from 7-10 days.)

– Nov. 20: Catalogs sent to bindery line and bound or stapled.

– Nov. 15-17: Catalogs are printed.

– Nov. 14: Tapes with names are due to printer.

– Nov. 6-10: List company and/or service provider dedupes and versions lists, performs list hygiene, test selects, and processes the names.

– Nov. 1: Spiegel orders lists.

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