Where have all the catalogs gone?

An optimist might argue that it’s simply a sign of the hypercompetitive, multichannel times. But a pessimist would say that this doesn’t bode well for the upcoming holiday season: In June, year-over-year catalog volume declined for the fifth month in a row, according to Catalog Tracker. At the same time, the percentage of catalogs offering free shipping and handling or deferred billing increased.

Catalog Tracker, a service of Greenwich, CT-based list and marketing services provider Direct Media, received 281 consumer catalogs this past June. That’s a decline of 16% from the 333 received in June 2004. The decline in volume for the first half of the year was less steep, however. Catalog Tracker logged in 2,177 catalogs from January to June 2005, just 2.4% fewer than the 2,231 received during the first six months of 2004.

Of the 281 books received in June 2005, 13% touted some sort of free S&H promotion, up from 9% the previous June. And 9% provided deferred billing, compared with 7% a year earlier.

Perhaps reflecting the summer malaise, there were few other distinctive promotions. Wine Enthusiast offered a $25 gift certificate with every purchase of at least $100; women’s apparel merchant Victoria’s Secret promised a free beach tote with purchase. Two diverse catalogers — auto parts merchant J.C. Whitney and collectibles title Barbie Collector — highlighted sweepstakes (or in J.C. Whitney’s case, “dream-stakes”) on their front cover. And nutritional supplements merchant Puritan’s Pride ran a “buy one, get two free” promotion, which makes one wonder just how high its markup ordinarily is.

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