Lists and Prospecting: More Selective About Selects

For certain, catalogers that plan to boost their prospecting this year are in the minority. Among respondents to the 2002 Catalog Age Benchmark Report on Lists and E-Lists (March 1 issue; also available online at, 56% intend to mail to fewer or the same number of outside names this year. Only 44% plan to mail to more outside names this year.

And as catalogers limit the number of names they rent, they are clearly becoming more selective, requesting additional selects to better home in on the most-responsive prospects.

Woodworker’s Supply, a Casper, WY-based cataloger that sells to both amateur and professional woodworkers, plans to cut its prospecting in half this year. So the $50 million mailer changed its recency select from 12-month buyers to three-month buyers. “It’s a way we’ll reduce the number of names we rent from 100,000 to 50,000,” says president John Wirth Jr., Ph.D.

National Wholesale, a cataloger of women’s hosiery, plans to reduce its catalog circulation “slightly” this year, says vice president of marketing Ian Silversides. For the lists it will rent this year, the Lexington, NC-based mailer plans to use more stringent recency, monetary, or product selects, though Silversides wouldn’t detail specifics.

Silversides will say that for some lists National Wholesale rents, “we find that people who have used house credit cards are not as effective for us.” So National Wholesale makes a point of suppressing those names. The cataloger, which caters to an older clientele, is also using the age select more than it has in the past to target women over the age of 55. “Using an age select wasn’t necessary when business was more buoyant,” Silversides says.

Geoff Batrouney, executive vice president of New Rochelle, NY-based list firm Estee Marketing Group, says that catalogers’ list rental practices have followed a common economic cycle. As many mailers’ sales and profitability rose out of the mid-1990s funk fueled by the 1995 postal rate hike and rapidly increasing paper prices, mailers became less selective when renting names.

“By going from, say, one-month buyers to six-month buyers during better times,” Batrouney says, “mailers enlarged their universes while lowering their selection costs. But at the time, by loosening recency and subsequently lowering response rates, response was still sufficiently strong to make it worthwhile.”

Conversely, during tougher economic times, says Jack Rosenfeld, president/CEO of multititle gifts cataloger Potpourri Collection, “you tighten up as much as you can. Then, if a list works and times improve, you gradually try to loosen the selects.”

For instance, if a list performs well this year with six-month buyers with average orders above $50, Rosenfeld continues, “you then try 12-month buyers with the same average orders to get more names. Then you take it from there by perhaps lowering the average order size.”

A caveat

Adding selects isn’t a wise tactic for all catalogers. If you’re a niche marketer already finding it difficult to locate enough suitable prospects, you don’t want to further restrict your pool of potential names.

Men’s apparel cataloger Paul Fredrick Menswear, for one, typically has a difficult time finding enough new names to rent, says senior vice president of marketing Allen Abbott. So adding selects to tighten up the lists it rents would be counterproductive. “If we were to add more selects,” he says, “we might get better response. But it would cut our universe to the point where a list would have, like, 12 names. So it’s not something we’ve considered.”

Forget RFM — Make It RMP

List selects typically choosen by catalogers when renting or exchanging names

2002 2000
Recency 62% 58%
Dollar (monetary) 55% 45%
Product 43% 37%
Frequency 37% 30%
Gender 36% 36%
Geographic region 28% 21%
Age 24% 12%
SIC code 18% 15%
E-mail 7% 5%
Source: Catalog Age Benchmark Report on Lists and E-lists

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