Why You’re Still Getting So Many Catalogs
Commentary by Bob Houk, Executive
Director, Trade Promotion Management Associates
It’s the Digital Age,
right? Nobody wants anything to do with print media, right? Catalogs are
environmentally destructive, right?
You might agree with
some or all of those assertions, but the folks in the catalog business
will say that they keep mailing because catalogs work. According to a recent
article in The Wall Street Journal,
17 billion catalogs were mailed last year in the U.S. Among retailers who
rely mainly on direct sales, 62 percent claimed their biggest revenue generator
is a paper catalog, according to the latest survey by the Direct Marketing
Association. Only a fifth said they draw their biggest sales from their
And the belief is that
even many of the web sales were driven by catalogs:
The article in the Journal stated, “The
post office recently hired a consultant to conduct a study that concluded
that consumers who received catalogs from a retailer spent 28 percent more
on that retailer’s web site than those who didn’t get a catalog. ‘The more
often you mail,’ the study said, ‘the more sales you could see.'”
the numbers are falling at rates that have to have the direct marketers
considering changes to their business plans. According to the DMA surveys,
the percentage of catalogs that generate a sale declined from over eight
percent in 2003 to just under two percent in 2007. And while the catalogs
generated 46 percent of direct marketers’ sales in 2008, compared to 36
percent online, the catalog number was down five percent from the previous
year, while the online number was up five percent.
And of course, the USPS
survey should be considered in light of the fact that they are far from
neutral on the subject. With the amount of on-line billing and payment,
and the almost complete disappearance of personal letters, the delivery
of advertising is becoming a bigger and bigger portion of their business.
big threat to both direct marketers and the USPS is the idea of a "Do
Not Mail" list:
A San Francisco environmental
group called Forest Ethics is circulating an online petition calling on
government to set up a “Do Not Mail” list that commercial mailers would
have to honor, modeled after the National Do Not Call Registry that allows
consumers to block telemarketers’ phone calls. By signing up, consumers
would block unwanted junk mail, including catalogs. The group says it has
gathered about 100,000 signatures.
I’m not sure as many
people would sign up for Do Not Mail as have signed up for Do Not Call,
an unwanted catalog in your mailbox is less intrusive and offensive than
a phone call from a telemarketer who refuses to hang up no matter how
many times you say, "Sorry, not interested."
But any substantial
drop in mailings would force the direct marketers to speed up the transition
to online marketing, and could be disastrous for the USPS.
Questions: Is there still a place for catalogs in a green-sensitive
world? How do catalogs still complement or support e-commerce or
brick & mortar businesses? Are we witnessing any meaningful
public backlash against catalog distribution?
You’re Still Getting So Many Catalogs – TMPA
Digital Era, Marketers Still Prefer a Paper Trail – The
Wall Street Journal