Print Alternatives: Can't Afford Catalogs Anymore?
Catalog Success recently took two of its longest-standing columnists to task. Strategy scribe Stephen R. Lett and Catalog Doctor Susan J. McIntyre have spent the better part of their careers producing or helping clients produce print catalogs. But do catalogs have a future in this integrated selling environment?
We posed that question to them along with other topical questions about the best and most practical ways to use print going forward.
CATALOG SUCCESS: With postage up again and the economy in bad shape, catalogers are looking to cut circulation or find print alternatives to catalogs that’ll drive sales to the Web. Are postcards a viable low-cost alternative?
STEVE LETT: Postcards can be an effective tool if used properly. They can drive Web traffic, for instance. They’re attention-getting and can motivate buyers to take action.
There are three characteristics of an effective postcard: 1. a clear call for action; 2. a bold and strong promotional offer; and 3. a deadline, i.e., “act now!”
Postcards are typically ineffective when mailed to prospects. They should be used in addition to scheduled catalog mailings, not in lieu of them.
SUSAN McINTYRE: I’ll add to that: I’ve seen two options that work. One, postcards can work if they extend the time limit on the offer from the prior catalog. Two, they also can work if they offer a really great deal that you don’t offer anywhere else. But yes, Steve, typically both only work to buyers, not prospects.
CS: What about mailing a catalog with just a fraction of the pages of your regular catalog, one that sells just your top-selling products so you save on paper and postage?
McINTYRE: Smaller page count catalogs can work if they’re filled with just best-sellers. But these typically only work if mailed to prospects. Existing buyers often have already bought your best-sellers, so they respond better to a wider product offering.
But don’t go too small on a prospecting 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. I advise steering clear of 16-page and 12-page books, however. And prospecting books don’t work for everyone, so you have to be careful.
Plus, when cutting pages from your regular catalog to create a prospecting book, try to get a separate product sales report that shows what products prospects are buying. 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 your plan. Also, increase page density on your midselling products.
Bouncebacks, Fliers Effective
CS: Do bounceback offers work? Can they generate additional noncatalog revenue even though the customer just ordered?
LETT: Absolutely. This is something you can do immediately with very little lead time. Place a coupon for $5 or $10 off your next offer in all outgoing packages. Make certain the coupon is the first thing customers see when they open the carton. Bounceback offers are an effective way of generating repeat orders from satisfied, recent Web and catalog buyers.
Small Fliers, Narrower Focus
CS: What about mailing small fliers, maybe with a narrow product focus or targeted theme?
McINTYRE: Fliers can work extremely well if they’re sale or clearance mailers enclosed in outgoing orders.
You can really pack in the product density, and there’s no postage. But I haven’t seen fliers of any kind work profitably as self-mailers for catalogers.
LETT: I’ve seen fliers used effectively to build retail store traffic. While most retailers know the advantage of fliers, the key is analyzing and understanding the results those fliers generate.
Whether you’re a retailer who distributes weekly fliers or only use fliers occasionally, there are metrics to measure the effectiveness of your fliers in attracting customers.
Oh, Those Catalog Requests
CS: How important is it to encourage and generate catalog requests? Can online catalog requests really convert to catalog buyers?
LETT: Catalog requests are like diamonds in the rough. Make a strong offer to catalog requestors and you’ll increase your conversion rate. You can do two things:
- Slap a label on the cover of catalogs being used to fulfill catalog requests stating your offer.
- Make an offer to the inquirers or requestors you’re remailing as part of your normal mailings. Fulfill inquiries within 24 hours. Just don’t overmail the Web-generated inquiries because those consumers tend to produce a lower conversion rate.
CS: Any other kind of mail?
McINTYRE: Best-customer mailings can be highly profitable, but they’re usually expensive and complex to get started.
Think about the 9 [inch] x 12 [inch] package you get from Harry & 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.
LETT: What’s more, if you need to generate additional demand revenue, consider adding another mailing to your better customers. It’s hard to overmail your top-
performing RFM housefile segments. You can generally squeeze more revenue from these dependable customers by mailing them again (and again).
More Sales, Less Mail?
CS: How can catalogers generate additional sales without mailing more catalogs, postcards or fliers?
LETT: Use your call center. Empower your telephone sales reps to make offers to customers while they have them on the phone. A high percentage of all catalog orders still result in a phone call to your call center. Give the call center more than one offer from which to select, and let your telephone reps select the offer they feel is most appropriate for each particular caller.
Be willing to pay a commission for add-on sales. You’ll be surprised how much incremental revenue you can generate from your own call-center employees.
CS: What’s the top print choice for driving Web sales?
LETT: No doubt, the catalog remains the largest single driver of traffic to the Web. Every time we do a matchback, 50 percent to 75 percent of the Internet results are allocated to the housefile.
Another 10 percent to 20 percent of these results should be allocated to outside rented lists (this varies based on how much prospecting a company is doing).
McINTYRE: One cataloger I know sells to sophisticated, techie consumers — just the folks who “don’t need a catalog” to stimulate sales. This cataloger is also very good at search engine optimization, pay per click, e-mail — all the right things to drive Web sales.
You’d expect that company to care little for its print catalog channel — yet its reps tell me that 80 percent or more of its Web sales are driven by catalog mailings. They consider the catalog the core of their business.