Print Alternatives To Your Catalog

A Conversation with Steve Lett and Susan McIntyre

CATALOG SUCCESSWith postage so high and the economy in bad shape, catalogers are looking to cut circulation or find print alternatives to their catalogs that will drive sales to the web. Are postcards a good alternative?

STEVE: Post cards can be used effectively to drive web traffic. They are attention getting and can motivate the buyer to take action. Characteristics of an effective post card are (1) a clear call for action, (2) a bold and strong promotional offer and a deadline, i.e., act now! Post cards are not effective when mailed to prospects. They should be used in addition to scheduled catalog mailings, not in-lieu of.

SUSAN: I agree with Steve, plus I’ve seen two options that can work. Postcards can work if they extend the time limit on the offer from the prior catalog. And postcards can work if they offer a really great deal that you don’t offer anywhere else. But typically both only work to buyers, not to prospects.

CATALOG SUCCESSWhat about mailing a catalog with just a fraction of the pages of your regular catalog, that sells just top selling products, in order to save on paper and postage?

SUSAN: Smaller page-count catalogs can work filled with just best-sellers, but typically only to prospects. Buyers have often already bought your best sellers, and respond better to a wider product offering. But don’t go too small on a prospect book. I’ve seen a 124-page catalog do well with a 60-page prospecting version, and a 60-page catalog do well with a 32-page prospecting version, but I advise steering clear of 16-page and 12-page books. And prospect books don’t work for everyone, so you have to be careful.

Plus, when cutting pages from your regular catalog in order to create a prospecting book, try to get a separate product sales report that shows what prospects are buying — because their buying patterns are probably different from your regular customers. When you cut products, cut from the lowest sellers to the highest, then compute lost sales on the products you’re omitting when forecasting plan. Also increase page density on your mid-selling products.

CATALOG SUCCESSDo bounce-back offers work and can they generate additional non-catalog revenue even though the customer just ordered?

STEVE: Absolutely. This is something you can do immediately with very little lead time required. Place a coupon for “$5.00 off (or $10.00 off) your next offer” in all outgoing packages. Make certain the coupon is the first thing the customer sees when they open the carton. Bounce-back offers are an effective way of generating repeat orders from satisfied recent web and catalog buyers.

CATALOG SUCCESSWhat about mailing small flyers, maybe with a narrow product focus or targeted theme?

SUSAN: Flyers can work well if they’re sale or clearance flyers that are enclosed in outgoing orders. Extremely well, in fact. You can really pack in the product density, and there’s no postage. But I haven’t seen flyers of any kind work profitably as self-mailers for catalogers.

STEVE: I’ve seen flyers used effectively to build retail store traffic. While most retailers know the advantage of flyers, the key is analyzing and understanding the results those flyers generate. Whether you’re a retailer who distributes weekly flyers or one that only uses flyers occasionally, there are metrics that you can use to measure the effectiveness of your flyers attracting customers.

CATALOG SUCCESSHow important is it to encourage and to generate catalog requests? Do catalog requests that come from the Web convert?

STEVE: Catalog requests i.e., inquiries, are like diamonds in the rough. Make a “strong” offer to catalog requestors which will increase the conversion rate. There are two things you can do. First of all, you can slap a label on the cover of catalogs being used to fulfill catalog requests which states the offer. You can also make an offer to the inquiries or requestors you are re-mailing as part of your normal mailings. Be sure to fulfill inquiries within 24 hours. Caution: Be careful not to over mail the web generated inquiries which tend to have a lower conversion rate.

CATALOG SUCCESSAny other kind of mail?

SUSAN: Best customer mailings can be highly profitable. But they are usually expensive and complex to get started. Think about the 9×12 package you get from Harry and David each year that lists everyone you gave gifts to last year. That type of mailing has been the top-performer in response and ROI for every food mailer I’ve seen.

STEVE: I agree with Susan. If you need to generate additional demand revenue, consider adding another mailing to your better customers. It is hard to over mail your top performing R-F-M house file segments. You can generally squeeze more revenue from these dependable customers by mailing them again (and again).

CATALOG SUCCESSHow can catalogers generate additional sales without mailing more catalogs, post cards or flyers?

STEVE: Use Your Call Center – Empower your telephone sales representative to make offers to customers. On average, more than 90% of all catalog orders result in a phone call to your call center. Authorize your call center employees to make an offer to the customer while they have them on the phone. Give the call center more than one offer from which to select and let your telephone representative select the offer they feel is most appropriate for each particular caller. Be willing to pay a commission or a spiff for add-on sales. You will be surprised how much incremental revenue you can generate from your own call center employees.

CATALOG SUCCESSWhat is the top print choice for driving web sales?

STEVE & SUSAN: Catalog! Catalog! Catalog!

STEVE: The catalog remains the largest single driver of traffic to the Web. Every time we do a match-back 50% to 75% of the Internet results are allocated to the housefile. Another 10% to 20% of these results should be allocated to outside rented lists (this varies based on how much prospecting a company is doing).

SUSAN: One cataloger I know sells to sophisticated, techy consumers — just the folks who “don’t need a catalog” to stimulate sales. This cataloger is also very good at SEO, PPC, email — all the right things to drive web sales. And even they — who you’d expect to care little for their catalog channel — tell me that 80% or more of their web sales are driven by catalog mailings. They consider their catalog the core of their business.