Strategy: Circulation Planning
Circulation planning is not what it used to be for a variety of reasons. The Internet is having the largest impact on circ planning, but there are other factors that make circ planning more complicated and challenging. Today, more is left to interpretation than ever before.
This month, I’ll explore what’s new and changing in circ planning, concentrating on five major areas of change: source code tracing, sources of sales, cooperative databases, contact strategy and prospect universe limitations.
Source Code Tracing
The most significant change has to do with our ability, or lack thereof, to trace orders and sales to a specific key code. There’s a huge portion of non-traceable orders and sales today. Prior to the Internet, catalogers could trace 80 percent to a specific key code with a 20 percent unknown factor. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
Today, however, catalogers are lucky to trace 40 percent to a specific key code; they have no idea where to credit the remaining 60 percent. The same 20 percent unknown factor remains, with another 40 percent of unknown orders and sales resulting from the Internet. That’s why matchbacks are a way of life today, and standard procedure for most catalog companies.
But, they’re not perfect. Therefore, tracing to a specific key code today is somewhat suspect and probably not quite as accurate. It takes longer and it’s more complicated to know for certain what key code to give credit for the sale. Matchbacks tend to favor the last or most recent mailings by giving credit to those housefile codes.
For example, a cataloger typically mails several times during the holiday gift-giving season with a last drop on or around Dec. 1. When a matchback is run for the holiday mailings, the last drop receives a disproportionate amount of the credit to specific key codes. Again, matchbacks aren’t perfect — you have to use some logic and common sense. The chart (above right) provides a good example. Before the matchback, the response per catalog (RPC) for the housefile was $1.44 per catalog mailed. After the matchback, the RPC increased 74.3 percent to $2.51 per book. Of the total dollars matched back, 72.2 percent were credited to the housefile. With this amount of lift and allocation, proper circ planning can’t be done without first doing a matchback. This adds an extra, time-consuming step to the process. You simply can’t know week-to-week results by source code until you match back the order file to the mail tapes.