Get your form in good order

To the sophomore marketer, order forms may be obsolete. But to the experienced catalog merchant, order blanks remain a fundamental component of the sales process. Order forms include all of the relevant customer service information to close the sale, as well the potential opportunity to sell products or services. Plus, answering customers’ questions with the information on the order form reduces how-to-order questions to the call center or live online help.

Shoppers are demonstrating an increasing ease placing orders on the Website, and on most sites the order form often serves as an organizer for the quick-order box. For business-to-business catalogers, the order form includes critical information that most procurement offices need to understand before authorizing a purchase order.

How do you make the most of your order form? You have to consider three key points:

1) Location 2) Format 3) Content

The order form’s location should be intuitive to customers. Perhaps fixed in tradition, the center of the catalog is where customers immediately look for the order form. For instance, if you thumb through a catalog that moved the order form to page 18 of a 48-page catalog, or page 73 of a 108-page catalog, the location of the order blank might feel random and without purpose.

And if the order form isn’t in the middle of the book, it’s difficult for customers to immediately find. The center stitching of the catalog often creates a natural break in the catalog, and turning to the middle of the book is a no-brainer for customers seeking an order blank.

In b-to-b, if catalogers include the necessary order information in the middle of the catalog, the location will also take advantage of the natural break of the center stitching. Big book catalogs — those 1/4-in. or more thick — do not have saddle stitching and instead are perfect bound. This binding process does not accommodate any natural breaks. But a big b-to-b book can create its own advantage by tabbing sections or using color-coded simulated tabs to identify the order form location. And with b-to-b, the table of contents and the index will also direct customers to the order form.

Whether you’re targeting consumers or businesses, the goal is to make ordering easy for customers by guiding them through the sale and answering questions without interrupting the selling process.

Format factors The order-form format is influenced by several things. A consumer catalog must determine if the order form will be developed as a separate insert bound in the catalog, or if the order form will be paginated within the pages of the book.

A quick response is often expense driven, with a calculation of how much it costs to create, print and bind a separate order form. For example, let’s say we’re printing 1.2 million copies of a 32-page catalog. The order form insert, an inch shorter than the height of the catalog on offset paper stock, is estimated to cost $8,000. Further assume the 32-page catalog costs $225,000, or $7,031 per page. Before you omit the order-form insert and decide to use catalog pages, you must look at the revenue per page.

One way to evaluate if you should devote catalog pages to the order form is to look at the historical gross demand sales. If the catalog usually generates $2.50 per catalog (dollars per book) and the circulation is 1.2 million, the estimated revenue is $3 million. Divide the revenue by 32 total pages, and the estimated revenue per page is $93,750.

Some catalogers may only divide by the number of selling pages; perhaps the front cover is not counted as a selling page, so the new calculation becomes $3 million divided by 31 pages is $96,774. You need to evaluate if it’s better to spend $8,000 for an order form insert or forgo the merchandise revenue of $93,750 per page.

Of course, you must use your own data to make a decision. If historical data is not relevant for the current situation, discuss with your merchants their plans for the catalog revenue.

Sometimes expense dollars are the paramount means of decision making. Continuing our example from above, if the catalog is 32 pages, then the cost-per-page calculation is $225,000 divided by 32 pages, or $7,031. How many pages will you need for the order form information?

If you need only one page, the $7,031 to use a catalog page is less expensive than printing a separate insert at $8,000. But you must balance the cost with the lost revenue opportunity.

For b-to-b merchants, the format decision is a bit different. An order form insert is usually helpful if the customer needs to pull out the information, fax the order, use the form with the purchase order paperwork, or keep the terms and conditions. Otherwise, the form will be paginated with the catalog.

B-to-b catalogers often have several pages to disclose important terms and conditions, outline technical services, provide shipping and delivery information, answer customers’ questions and to communicate special services.

When the order form is an insert, the size and format are predicated on the amount of information you need to provide. Is an envelope important to your customers? Ask a cataloger who sells tulip bulbs this question vs. a fashion apparel company — you will hear two different answers.

What does your customer want and use? Will the order form insert be two-color or four-color? Maybe you need four-color because you plan to use one of the outer pages to sell product. It’s not unusual for catalogers to find great success selling from the order form — and the revenue covers the expense of the order-blank insert.

Content concerns Content within the order form continues to evolve as it adapts to customer preferences. Originally the order form literally meant the document used for the customer to complete his or her order and mail it to the company.

When toll-free numbers were more widely introduced in the mid 1980s, the shift from using the order-blank envelope (OBE) to a mail order blank (MOB) was becoming relevant. As shopping preferences have changed, so too has the cataloger.

With more catalogers experiencing 50% of the orders placed on their Websites, the order form has become a source for ordering information rather than an ordering vehicle. Catalog marketers have developed contemporary titles such as order information page; how to order; customer service information; or customer shopping guide.

No matter if you choose to insert the order form or use catalog pages, you must develop a distinct visual presentation to differentiate the pages from the catalog’s selling pages. How you organize the information is crucial: You must use design techniques to answer customers’ questions in a natural progression and include all relevant ordering information.

Elements found on order forms include:

Bottom line: You need to decide which elements are important to your customer — and your company. And if you forgo an actual order form in your catalog and include only the ordering information, you could refer customers to your Website to download a PDF of the order form.

Consultant Gina Valentino is the owner of Hemisphere Marketing (

  • Customer information (usually ink jet imaged) or space for writing
  • Ship-to address
  • Order form to complete with relevant space for specific elements (size, color, page, price, gift wrap, shipping location, embroidery, etc.)
  • Payment method
  • Shipping information
  • Special shipping charges
  • Tax
  • Exchanges
  • Returns
  • Mailing preference policy
  • Privacy statement
  • Retail locations
  • Website
  • Customization options: embroidery, logos
  • Fit and sizing charts
  • Pricing guarantees
  • Guarantee, warranty
  • International orders
  • Gift cards, gift certificates
  • Gift boxes
  • Request a catalog/send a friend
  • Proprietary credit card offers and terms
  • Terms and conditions
  • How to order (or how to measure, select, install, etc.)
  • Samples, swatches
  • Rewards programs, loyalty, continuity (auto-ship programs)
  • Technical service
  • Customer service
  • Hours of operation
  • Ways to shop
  • Training programs
  • Clarification of offers
  • Differentiating editorial (awards, certification, innovation, product introductions, etc.)

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