The 50 Best Tips of 2006
What better way for a tips-oriented business magazine to wind down 2006 than with the top 50 tips of the year? My staff and I spent the past several weeks going through every article that’s run so far in Catalog Success and the Catalog Success Idea Factory e-newsletter this year to bring you the ultimate how-to “cheat sheet.”
Throughout these pages, we’ve synthesized the year’s best tips, summarizing, and in some cases quoting directly, from stories and/or the sources themselves, where noted. Below each, you’ll see the industry expert who offered the tip. We reference the issue from which the tips originate so you can turn to your back issues or e-mails and read or re-read more on them.
And since there’s much here for everybody, depending on what part of the business you’re in, rather than rank them from the No. 1 tip through the 50th best tip of 2006, we’ve placed them in 11 different categories.
As always, Catalog Success encourages an idea-sharing platform, and I welcome your feedback. Might you have any related tips you’d like to share with other readers? Did you turn one of these tips into a home run? Or, perhaps one flopped. Whatever your experiences, please e-mail me at email@example.com.
—Paul Miller, Editor in Chief
Mailing & Marketing
Quick formula to improve prospecting results.
After a merge/purge, optimize rental singles (one-time buyers), and suppress the lowest-scoring 10 percent to 20 percent. Doing so should yield a 5 percent to 15 percent (or higher) lift in response. Mail a 5,000 to 10,000 back-test cell to monitor suppression results to measure the exact lift achieved.
—Stephen R. Lett, Lett Direct, Strategy column, “When Prospects Aren’t Buying,” February, Catalog Success
Wait patiently for test results
After a particular test designed to increase average order value (AOV) online didn’t immediately beat the control, “I cautiously ran the test for a few weeks. It turned out that since I conducted the test using products that had higher prices, customers for those products had a longer buying cycle. After three weeks, the test beat the control and AOV increased.”
—Geoffrey Robinson, J.C. Whitney, source, “Three Lessons Learned From a Web Site Redesign,” June 13, Catalog Success Idea Factory
More than metrics.
Businesses don’t succeed through metrics alone. Ideas and people make a company and a brand successful. If all you know about your customer is her numbers, she’ll soon be giving her number to somebody else.
—Geralynn Madonna, Spiegel Brands, source, “How Spiegel Recovered,” June, Catalog Success
To provide a perk that might be less costly than free shipping, try offering mail-in rebates.
Sixty-seven percent of consumers demand free shipping, but only 25 percent of free shipping rebates are redeemed.
—José Li, FedEx, source, “Six Picking and Packing Tips,” April 25, Catalog Success Idea Factory
Improve matchback results.
Before starting a matchback process, have your vendor run your mail tapes and the order file through standard address correction software. Standardizing addresses in both files will improve your match rate. So instead of making the program match 1234 Hazel Grove Lane with 1234 Hazel Gr Ln, both your mail tapes and your orders will have the same software-approved layout.
—Terrell Sellix, McIntyre Direct, Special Report: Matchbacks, March, Catalog Success
Proceed with caution when it comes to promotional offers.
The names you select to get a free-shipping offer should be in specific groups. For example, use the offer to reactivate 24-month-plus multibuyers, or to convert catalog requestors. But don’t offer it to your most recent buyers unless you want to drive traffic to the Web.
—Stephen R. Lett, Lett Direct, Strategy, “What You Need to Know About Promotional Offers,” April, Catalog Success
Use regression analysis to quantify the relationship between two variables.
This way, you can predict what a sales increase could be with a given discount offer and still be statistically correct. If the correlation is too small or nonexistent, seek other factors that may affect your bottom line.
—Orest Protch, "Use Regression Analysis to Optimize Catalog Circ and Sales Data,” Feb. 28, Catalog Success Idea Factory
B-to-B mailers should use databases to their fullest potential.
As databases become more agile and nimble, catalogers can increase the number of fields in their databases. Use your database as a decision-making tool that allows you to see how often and how much companies buy from you, as well as what products they buy and where in their organizations the products are sent. Have different fields relevant to your company.
—Gina Valentino, Hemisphere Marketing, source,“Jump-Start Your Segmentation Strategy,” Jan. 24, Catalog Success Idea Factory
Treat well those customers who take the time to let you know they’re moving.
These are customers who actually cared enough about their relationship with your company to notify you of the move. Be more careful with that information and rush them a catalog. They just moved, and may need to buy a lot of stuff.
—Bill LaPierre, Millard Group, “Schmooze the Movers,” Feb. 14, Catalog Success Idea Factory
Retain your “gold” continuity customers.
Send a welcome letter in each customer’s first shipment, detailing how your continuity program works. Give customers online access to their accounts. Allow them to postpone, cancel or alter the frequency of specific shipments.
—Shari Altman, Altman Dedicated Direct, “A Continuity Mailer … Who Me? Never! Why Not!” May, Catalog Success
Milk your 12-month buyer file.
The more recent buyers there are, the lower the selling-expense-to-sales ratio. Seek to reactivate older buyers, convert inquiries to buyers, mail hotline buyers more frequently, increase prospecting, etc. Develop a circ strategy to grow your 12-month buyer file faster.
—Stephen R. Lett, Lett Direct, Strategy,“How to Use Selling Expense Ratios,” July, Catalog Success
Creative & Copywriting
Enforce creative synergy.
Even if you outsource creative services, enforce seamlessness in your creative by forming a brand standards guide — a sort of style manual that details how creative elements should appear in each sales channel. Instructions on color palettes, logos, fonts and photography should readily be accessible to everyone involved. Set up an FTP site from which your creative team can download the information needed.
—Carol Worthington-Levy, Lenser& Associates, source, “Channel Surfing,” March, Catalog Success
Weigh your words.
You’re in command of the reaction to your words. Check each noun and verb to be sure it’s as colorful, specific and dynamic as it can be. Consider the subtle differences you communicate to your customers. Ask how they react to “autumn” and “fall”; “pants” and “trousers”; “acquire” and “own”; or “made by” and “built by.”
—Herschell Gordon Lewis, Lewis Enterprises, source, “Three Quick Tips For Better Catalog Copy,” June 6, Catalog Success Idea Factory
Photo shoots and TV monitors.
At product photo shoots, have your photographer set up a TV monitor. This allows you to keep an eye on what’s being photographed without butting in and interrupting the creative process. “Photographers all have different processes because they’re shooting different things. But a monitor allows us to see where they’re going.”
—Laurie Harquail, Rejuvenation, source, “Picture Perfect,” August, Catalog Success
Acquisitions & Valuations
Pinpoint a buyer of your company.
If you’re looking to sell your company, you’ll find that buyers fall into two categories: strategic or financial. Strategic buyers may pay more for your business, because they can recast your income statement by leveraging existing overhead structure. Financial buyers care only about growth and profit. They’ll probably want to sell your company in three to five years for a profit. Smaller catalogers should look for strategic buyers.
—Stephen R. Lett, Lett Direct,, Strategy, “Exit the Stage Right,” January, Catalog Success
Invest in audited annual statements.
Whether you’re large or small, pay the accounting fees to produce an audited annual statement. The lack of audited statements can limit your attractiveness in the deal marketplace.
—Larry West, West Cos. Inc., Valuations & Acquisitions, “Know What to Ask,” October, Catalog Success
Don’t waste good creative.
Sierra Trading Post catalog often will launch an e-mail campaign on a Monday, and find that 75 percent of recipients don’t open it. While the e-mails could be getting trapped in spam filters or simply are deleted, there’s a chance that customers don’t see the message. “So we’ll send it again on Friday to the 75 percent that haven’t opened it. Although the open rate usually is low — no more than 5 percent usually — clickthrough rates for those who open the second e-mail are much higher than normal.”
—Doug Williams, Sierra Trading Post, source, “Test for Success,” May 23, Catalog Success Idea Factory
Useful e-mail sign-up ideas.
Use a clean pop-up to collect e-mail information; let visitors sign up for e-mails from your retail stores; tell visitors they’ll receive a discount coupon by e-mail right after they sign up; allow visitors to select the content they want to receive; and tell users to expect an e-mail confirmation.
—Alan Rimm-Kaufman, Rimm-Kaufman Group, E-commerce Insights, “Improve Your E-mail Sign-up Process,” September, Catalog Success
Make your e-mail subject lines attention-grabbing.
Test gender-based segments in subject lines. Men respond to new products and fresh content; women often are interested to hear about special sales and promotions.
—Eric Kirby, DoubleClick, source, “Increase Response to Your E-mail Campaigns,” April, Catalog Success
Use confirmation e-mails.
Although the industry numbers are increasing, many catalog companies still don’t send confirmation e-mails when customers opt in to receive them. A simple confirmation e-mail sets the tone for your brand and first sale. In such e-mails, include content about your company and products; stimulate the initial sale by offering a discount off the first order.
—Jim Gilbert, Gilbert Direct Marketing, Contributions to Profit, “Discover the Power of Confirmation E-mails,” July, Catalog Success
Devise a grand digital asset management plan.
When embarking on a digital asset management (DAM) solution, start with a utopian workflow vision and let it guide the search for DAM tools. Seek a flexible solution that doesn’t pigeon-hole you into a workflow. Find one that you can shape and mold to fit your vision.
—Dan Lorenzini, source, “Building a Digital Workflow Brick by Brick,” August, Catalog Success
Change internal links to meaningful keywords.
Links that lead deeper into your site should never say “click here” or “next.” Change these links to product names, category names or any keywords research tells you to choose. Creating links with relevant keywords will improve search engine results for those terms.
—Stephan Spencer, Netconcepts, source,“Three Tips to Improve Search Traffic,” March 14, Catalog Success Idea Factory
Pre-qualify search marketing clickers.
Don’t pay for visitors who are unlikely to become customers. Be specific. Don’t describe products or services in literal terms; use qualifiers. If your catalog focuses on high-end window coverings, don’t just say “wood blinds,” use more descriptive, qualifying words like “highest quality, exotic wood blinds.”
—Patricia Hursh, SmartSearch Marketing, “Four Tips from the Catalog Conference,” May 23, Catalog Success Idea Factory
Don’t put your paid search campaign on auto-pilot.
Like visiting your dentist for a checkup, conduct a search marketing audit every six months. Ensure your pay-per-click campaigns stay healthy, whether managed by an in-house team or by an agency.
—Alan Rimm-Kaufman, Rimm-Kaufman Group, E-commerce Insights, “Give Search Marketing Campaigns a Checkup,” June, Catalog Success
Web Site Maintenance & Marketing
Beware of promotional language such as, “We utilize state-of-the-art security technology” or, “We encrypt your data at all times.”
These types of claims are a lawsuit waiting to happen and are a tempting challenge for hackers. The FTC considers it a “deceptive trade practice” to publish claims about your security program that aren’t substantiated by your actual practices. Focus on what you do to secure your customers’ data.
—J. Chris Noell, Solutionary, “How to Market Data Security Measures,” March 28, Catalog Success Idea Factory
Help consumers comparison shop.
Consumers do it anyway. This way you’ll have a voice in the process. Place a comparison chart on your landing page that summarizes your unique selling proposition relative to the competition. Ad copy should show people how you compare.
—Patricia Hursh, SmartSearch Marketing, “Four Tips from the Catalog Conference,” May 23, Catalog Success Idea Factory
Re-evaluate e-commerce metaphors, e.g., shopping carts, wish lists.
Deliver on the shopping cart metaphor by placing a bar along the top or side of the page that expands when the shopper wants to see what she’s placed inside. Don’t take customers to a separate shopping cart page or they might get lost. Enable pop-up windows to give shoppers more information on a featured product so they don’t have to click through to a new page.
—Kevin Messing, Fry Inc., source, “Do’s and Don’ts For Next-gen Web Design,” May 23, Catalog Success Idea Factory
Regularly test Web site restores from your backup.
This is a critical step for ensuring your data backup can restore your Web site. Some complex applications might require special software agents or configurations to back up and restore properly. Make sure the test restore is successfully accomplished in an acceptable time frame for a real restore. If the process takes too long, reconsider your backup strategy.
—Chris Kivlehan, INetU Managed Hosting, “Four Backup Data Rules,” June 6, Catalog Success Idea Factory
Bloggers help build brands, start trends and wreak havoc on reputations. Generate some positive buzz in the blogosphere. Consider sending some free samples to bloggers with no strings attached. Spin it as an early Christmas gift. If they think your products are cool, they’ll probably link to you.
—Stephan Spencer, Netconcepts, “Help Your Customers Find You in Cyberspace,” October, Catalog Success
Enable social commerce on your Web site.
Also known as community-based selling, this will bring some of the social elements of shopping to online retail. Let customers compare and rate products, write reviews, create “best of” lists, and search for other customers’ recommendations. Provide “forward-to-a-friend” capabilities, and enable search-centric shopping that lets buyers mine meaningful data from feedback, reviews and other online content to make buying decisions.
—Stephan Schambach, Demandware, “Must-Have Web Personalization Features,” May 9, Catalog Success Idea Factory
Bait with blogs.
Search engines love good blogs, which are chock full of rich, fresh content, clean semantic markup and rich interlinkages. For many searches, blog results rank higher than product detail pages on search engine organic results pages.
—Alan Rimm-Kaufman, Rimm-Kaufman Group, Special Report: Web Marketing, “Blog for Increased Customer Response,” May, Catalog Success
Track your podcasts’ popularity.
If your e-newsletter service provider has the right tools in place, podcasting is trackable. Monitor which subscribers listened to your podcast, and identify which ones passed it along. By tracking podcast listenership, you’ll gain valuable insight into subscribers’ interests.
—David A. Fish, I Make News, source, Special Report: Web Marketing,“Podcasts 101,” May, Catalog Success
Be among the 5 percent of wise “squinchers.”
Few spreadsheet reports return as many tangible, bottom-line driven results as your square inch (“squinch”) analysis. But just 5 percent of catalogers have said they conduct a squinch analysis. With a squinch report, you’ll have a handle on your products’ performance and be able to plan merchandise selection beyond the immediate needs of your next catalog. Without it, you rely on incomplete information for your most important decisions.
—George Hague,, J. Schmid & Assoc., B-to-B Cataloging, “An Introduction to Merchandise Analysis,” July, Catalog Success
Rein in your (executive) emotions.
Put in place systems that remove any emotion from the decision-making process. Establishing metrics for every part of the business and allowing others to challenge your executive decision help keep your emotions in check.
—Sal Longo, Northern Safety, source, “Safely Ahead of the Game,” September, Catalog Success
Use benchmarks and best practices judiciously.
One of the most effective ways to benchmark is against yourself, one season to another, or year over year, against a standard or expectation. External benchmarks give a general idea of where to zero in. Internal benchmarks let you focus on trends in specific areas. You may have internal benchmarks that say some aspect of your operation is at 90 percent, but if you have no external benchmark of what's good, you could mislead yourself into thinking 90 percent is good. A combination of internal and external benchmarks works best.
—Curt Barry, president, F. Curtis Barry & Co., “Benchmarks and Best Practices,” March, Catalog Success
Effective vendor selection.
Negotiate the best price with your vendor, but cultivate the relationship. Price shouldn’t be the No. 1 criterion when selecting a vendor.
—Stephen R. Lett, Lett Direct, Strategy, “Partner With the Best,” June, Catalog Success
Use benchmarking to determine the effectiveness of departmental changes.
Choose an area of your company where workload is nearing or exceeding capacity. If you’re considering adding more CSRs, meet with your existing CSRs and explain that you’re developing a plan to improve their work environment. Have them document their challenges and make any suggestions for improvement. Tell them you’ll monitor everyone’s workload and post the results. Keep monitoring for a 12-week period. Each week pick an improvement suggestion and implement it. You’ll find that productivity and morale increase.
—Debra Wilson Ellis, Wilson & Ellis, “Improve Efficiency With a Benchmarking Strategy,” Feb. 7, Catalog Success Idea Factory
Don’t ‘force’ industry standards on your company.
The most problematic part of benchmarking is when people go to conference sessions and hear practitioners who share some data element. The conference attendee then goes home and says, “We need to get our X to this level that they quoted at the conference.” Or he uses the number as a prod to try to force his operations to some level of performance.
—Liz Kislik, Liz Kislik Associates, “Benchmarks and Best Practices,” March, Catalog Success
Conduct a thorough warehouse assessment.
A serious audit should include weekly productivity reports from all departments in the warehouse in terms of units of work processed per paid hour and reporting of errors. Compare desired standards with actual performance.
—Curt Barry, F. Curtis Barry & Co., “Avoid Fulfillment Woes,” September, Catalog Success
Work with multiple parcel carriers.
Don’t burn bridges with carriers; in fact, use more than one.
—David DeWees, source, Hershey Direct, “Hershey Direct Makes Seamless Ground Delivery Carrier Transition,” June, Catalog Success
When negotiating small parcel shipping contracts with carriers, don’t just demand low rates from the carriers.
Instead, provide them with a story line —- where your company has been, where it’s going, what your overall needs are. When you compare proposals, you have to understand the differences in carriers’ rates and what it means to the organization. The intricacy of looking at base rates is no small issue.
—Rick Collins, AFMS, source, “Know Your Carrier and Know Your Business During Negotiations,” April 25, Catalog Success Idea Factory
Compare late-order customers.
To see how service affects your business, take a sampling of customers who placed last-minute orders a few years ago. Divide them into groups by whether they received their orders before or after the holiday. Calculate the lifetime value for each group and compare the two. Conduct the same analysis on customers who placed orders during the off-season. Divide them into two groups by whether their orders shipped immediately or not. The results will provide you with a good reason to gear up for the holidays.
—Debra Wilson Ellis, Wilson & Ellis Consulting, “Last Minute Readiness,” June, Catalog Success
To achieve cost savings in consolidated shipments, monitor and review all freight shipments to the same customer base to see if they efficiently can be combined. Merchants often see more than 10 percent savings from having fewer shipments. Use exception reports, which are management reports created to track missed pickups and consolidation opportunities, to help drive good practices and discipline across your vendor base.
—Nicholas C. Isasi, DM Transportation Management Services, “How to Save Money on Your Inbound-Freight Program,” April, Catalog Success
Call Centers & Customer Service
Rather than measuring calls per hour in the contact center, try measuring sales revenue per hour as a success metric.
“We’d probably like customer service reps (CSRs) to take eight calls per hour. Multiply that by our average order of $150, and we want reps to generate $1,250 in sales per hour. The last thing we want CSRs to do is think, ‘I have this customer who keeps ordering from me, but I have other customer calls to take, so I have to get off the phone.’ Let that rep keep talking to that customer as long as the customer is legitimately buying something.”
—Tim Holody, Seta Corp., source, “Measure Effectiveness by Sales, not Calls, Per Hour,” April 18, Catalog Success Idea Factory
Motivate contact center reps without money.
Ask some key questions: What three things annoy you about your job? What would make your job more satisfying? Also conduct regular training and informational meetings as it’s difficult for reps to keep track of numerous marketing and merchandising initiatives in the expanding multichannel world.
—Angela Wolfe, The Orvis Co., “If Money Isn’t the Answer, What Is?” August, Catalog Success
Track your call-to-order conversions.
Set up tracking methods so you can see why people call but don’t buy. Most call center software lets you track this, or your reps could use simple tick sheets to check off reasons callers don’t order. Don’t include customer service-related calls (e.g., returns, exchanges, order status) in this metric. Once you have the reasons people don’t order, you can work to address them within in your organization.
—Jim Gilbert, Gilbert Direct Marketing, Contributions to Profit, “Track Call-to-Order Conversions,” January, Catalog Success
Choose the right contact center outsourcing partner.
When shopping for a provider, methodically investigate service quality. For example, insist on monitoring a few customer calls. Are the reps polite, efficient and obviously qualified? Is there too much background noise? Also, call the provider and do a little mystery shopping to see how the company handles your queries. And don’t throw any softballs — make them work, then document their responses and how they handle your call. Call companies that use those the provider offers as references. Visit the contact center.
—Marc Klein, SC Fulfillment Services, source, “How to Select an Outsourcing Partner,” April, Catalog Success
Respond to customer information requests or complaints within 24 to 48 hours.
It’s not imperative to come up with a resolution that quickly since it’s not always possible to fix the problem immediately. But you should respond right away to alert the customer, “Here’s when you can anticipate hearing from us.”
—Lisa Ford, Ford Group, source, “Dig to the Root of the Issue,” April 18, Catalog Success Idea Factory
Keep your customers close.
If the address of one of your multibuyers suddenly gets flagged as undeliverable, have your contact center call that customer on the phone to verify the address. It’s very likely that an order-entry error occurred within your contact center the last time that customer called to place an order. Thirty percent to 40 percent of customers will respond to the call and correct the error.
—Rod Ford, CognitiveDATA, source, “How to Hook and Keep Gold Customers,” January, Catalog Success
Convert returns into sales.
Ensure that your customer service reps (CSRs) are capable of turning returns into exchanges. The CSR can simply say, “Ms. Jones, would you like the item in a different size, color, etc.?”
—Jim Gilbert, Gilbert Direct Marketing, Contributions to Profit, “Profit From Your Returns,” May, Catalog Success
- Altman Dedicated Direct
- DM Transportation
- F. Curtis Barry & Co.
- Federal Express
- Fry, Inc.
- Hershey's Gift Catalog
- J. Schmid & Assoc.
- J.C. Whitney & Co.
- Lett Direct Inc.
- Liz Kislik Associates LLC
- McIntyre Direct
- Millard Group Inc.
- Orvis Company
- SC Fulfillment Services Inc.
- Sierra Trading Post
- The Rimm-Kaufman Group
- West Companies Inc.